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Title: Women of India
Author: Rothfeld, Otto
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Women of India" ***

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[Illustration: A BOMBAY LADY]

                            WOMEN OF INDIA

                    OTTO ROTHFELD, F.R.G.S., I.C.S.

                               AUTHOR OF
                 ‘INDIAN DUST,’ ‘LIFE AND ITS PUPPETS’
                   ‘WITH PEN AND RIFLE IN KISHTWAR’

                           _ILLUSTRATED BY_
                            M.V. DHURANDHAR

                     D.B. TARAPOREVALA SONS & CO.

                       _Printed in Great Britain
                   by Turnbull & Spears, Edinburgh_

                       TO THE KINDEST OF FRIENDS
                         MRS ARGYLL ROBERTSON
                       A CONSTANT WELL-WISHER OF
                           INDIAN WOMANHOOD


    CHAP.                                        PAGE

       I. AS THEY ARE                               1

      II. MARRIAGE IN INDIA                        15

     III. THE HINDU WOMAN IN MARRIAGE              31


       V. THE MIDDLE CLASSES                       89


     VII. THE DANCING GIRL                        149

    VIII. WOMAN’S DRESS                           175

      IX. THE MOVING FINGER                       197

List of Illustrations

    NO.                                   FACING PAGE

     1. A BOMBAY LADY                  _Frontispiece_

     2. A PATHARE PRABHU                            7

     3. WATER-CARRIER FROM AHMEDABAD                8

     4. SWEEPER                                    10

     5. FISHER WOMAN OF SIND                       19


     7. PATHAN WOMAN                               26

     8. BORAH LADY FROM SURAT                      30


    10. FROM JODHPUR                               44

    11. A MILL-HAND                                53

    12. A MAHAR WOMAN                              60

    13. LADY FROM MEWÁR                            69

    14. RAJPUT LADY FROM CUTCH                     76

    15. MAHRATTI LADY                              78

    16. NAIR LADY                                  83


    18. FROM BURMAH                                90

    19. LADY FROM MYSORE                           94

    20. A SOUTHERN INDIAN TYPE                     97

    21. BENGALI LADY                               99

    22. A NÁGAR BEAUTY                            101

    23. JAIN NUN                                  108

    24. BHATIA LADY                               110

    25. KHOJA LADY IN BOMBAY                      112

    26. MEMAN LADY WALKING                        117

    27. PARSI FASHION                             124

    28. DYER GIRL IN AHMEDABAD                    129

    29. MUSSULMAN WEAVER                          131

    30. CAMBAY TYPE                               133

    31. THE MILKMAID                              135

    32. A FISHWIFE OF BOMBAY                      138

    33. TODA WOMAN IN THE NILGIRIES               140

    34. GOND WOMAN                                142

    35. BHIL GIRL                                 145

    36. DANCER IN MIRZAPUR                        154

    37. MUSSULMAN NAUTCH-GIRL                     160

    38. DANCER FROM TANJORE                       165

    39. NAIKIN IN KANARA                          172

    40. GIPSY WOMAN                               177

    41. A GURKHA’S WIFE                           181

    42. A GLIMPSE AT A DOOR IN GUJARÁT            183

    43. A WIDOW IN THE DECCAN                     186

    44. A WOMAN OF THE UNITED PROVINCES           188

    45. IN THE HAPPY VALLEY OF KASHMIR            208

    46. A DENIZEN OF THE WESTERN GHAUTS           213

    47. A WORKING WOMAN AT AJMERE                 216

    48. BORN BESIDE THE SACRED RIVERS             220

As they are

    “Oh hail! O bright great God, in the form of that brown-eyed
    beautiful thing before me, that fills me with astonishment and
    laughter and supreme delight.”

                               _A Draught of the Blue._ PROFESSOR BAIN.

Chapter I


Others had written even before Vatsyana the Wise wrote his “Gospel
of Love.” At that time the power of the Yávans and the Sákas was
outstretched over the land. They were peoples that had come out of
Persia and Bactria and obscure Scythia, many of them men with the blood
of those Ionian soldiers who had marched with Alexander and settled
with Eastern wives under Eastern skies. The teachings of Gautama, the
Indian prince, they had made their own; and to the countries in which
they ruled they had brought the peace of Buddha and the temperate
fruitions of Greece. On all the great trade-routes were monasteries
of Buddhist monks and large caravanserais for merchants and pilgrims.
Even as far as the sands of Lopnor, far across the roof of the world,
and to the Gobi desert, where the Chinese land begins, the tribes that
gave rulers to India had set their posts and planted their colonies.
On cunningly-sealed wedges of wood they sent their royal orders to
the wardens of their frontiers and on palm-leaves from the Indian
coasts they inscribed the lore that gave the illumination of God to
settlements on the mountains and in the Central Asian deserts. In
the shrines or stupas that they raised to Buddha, the wise teacher,
they had dadoes and frescoes painted in tempera by some Titianus or
Heliodorus from the Hellenized Levant, adventurers of a fine Grecian
courage, who scattered their harmonious energies and their joy in
life over the Indian world. Along the trade-routes marched merchants’
caravans, burdened with silks and rare spices, that found their way
from China to the Black Sea or the precarious ports on the Arabian

“Women,” wrote the professors of love, in that time of peace and
enjoyment, “can be divided into four classes. There is she who is
a pure lotus, and she who is fair as a picture, she whom they call
hag and witch, and she who can be likened only to the female of the
elephant.” Of her who is as a lotus they wrote: “Her face is pleasant,
like the full moon: her plump body is tender as the mustard flower:
her skin is fine and soft as the golden lotus, fair and undarkened.
Bright and beautiful are her eyes like those of the antelope, clear-cut
and healthful. Her breast is firm and full and uplifted, and her neck
shapely: her nose is straight and delightful. The scent of her body
is like a lily newly burst. She walks delicately like a swan and her
voice is low and musical as the note of the cuckoo, calling softly in
the summer day. She is clothed in clean white garments and she delights
in rich jewels and adornments. She is gracious and clever, pious and
respectful, a lover of God, a listener to the virtuous and the wise.”

Of the manner of living of a virtuous woman it is further written by
Vatsyana the Wise: “A virtuous woman that hath affection to her husband
shall in all things act according to his wishes as if he were divine.
She shall keep the house well-cleansed and arrange flowers of every
kind in the different chambers and surround the house with a garden
and make the floor smooth and polished, so that all things be meet
and seemly. Above all she shall venerate the shrine of the Household
Deities. To the parents of her husband she shall behave as is meet and
proper, speaking to them in few words and softly, not laughing loud in
their presence, but being always quiet and respectful without self-will
and contradiction. She shall always consider in the kitchen what her
husband likes and dislikes and shall seek to please him. Always she
will sit down after him and rise before him: and when she hears his
footsteps as he returns home, she will get up and meet him and do
aught that he desires. If her husband do wrong, she shall not unduly
reproach him, but show him a slight displeasure and rebuke him in words
of fondness and affection. And when she goes to her husband when they
are alone, she will wear bright coloured garments and many jewels and
anklets and will perfume herself with sweet ointments and in her hair
place flowers.”

Many generations have passed and other races--Hunas and Gujjars and
Mongols--have invaded India. And asceticism has squeezed the people in
its dry hand, and there has been war and bigotry and pestilence. Yet
even now the teachings are not quite forgotten. Many a one there still
is among the women of India, of whom it can with truth be said: “She is
even as a golden lotus.”

Now, again, the sovereigns of India rule over many regions and send
their royal messages to the uttermost ends of the earth. Again the
great trade-routes pass through India and the merchandise of East and
of West meet in the harbours of Bombay and Calcutta. Castes and peoples
feel their way to a common nationality and a fresher spirit, and before
their eyes breaks the morning light of a new Renaissance. And in the
women of new India the old texts revive to a more vigorous flesh and

[Illustration: A PATHARE PRABHU]

Stand of an evening on the Queen’s Road in Bombay, looking over the
wide curve of Back Bay, where the lights of the city fade away into
the distances of the sea and on the right the hill throws its contour
against the darkening sky. They pass here, brightly-clad, quietly
smiling, modestly distant, the women of India at their newest and
most modern, yet in essentials formed by the ancient rule. They are
discarding perhaps the habits of dark ages of misrule and superstition,
but they cling none the less to the spirit of old India--to those
principles hallowed at its best and freshest age. In their cars
the wives and children of rich merchants glide through the crowd.
On the back seat, in the shadow of the cabriolet top, a glimpse of
gold-brocade can be caught or the tone of a fair brown skin. Here a
Bhatia lady passes, come originally from the hot plains of the Cutch
Peninsula, the wife of a millionaire cotton-spinner or a financial
agent. Or there, in gracefully-draped mantle[1] and Paris-made shoes
and stockings, a Saraswat Brahman lady or a Pathare Prabhu, with that
lustrous pallor that is brought by the warm breezes from the sea, goes
on her way to her club to play tennis or drink afternoon tea. Seated in
open carriages or strolling along the pavement to taste the freshness
of the sea-breeze, are hundreds of Parsi girls, in dresses of every
hue, with the heavy velvet borders that they affect, gossiping, nodding
to their friends, laughing and chattering. Poorer women dart across
the street, pulling children after them through the busy traffic, and
carrying their youngest on their hip astride. A sweeper woman brushes
fallen leaves into the gutter. Through all the noise of motors and of
the trains that dash along the disfiguring railway, the sound of a bell
clanged at the temple door by a worshipper may be heard and, at sunset,
the call to prayer from the minaret of a mosque. Behind a high wall,
half-way down the fashionable drive, a red light rises against the
darkness from the flames which consume the city’s dead.

    [1] The _sari_ has throughout this book been rendered by
    the English word “mantle,” though as an equivalent it is
    misleading. For a description of the _sari_ as it is, see
    Chapter VIII.

Chiefly the notes that strike are of nature and sex. These women are
so thoroughly women, beyond and above all else. Except perhaps among
the Parsis, where English customs have been sometimes too closely
copied, there is no trace of the beings, women in age, but stunted
and warped and with the ignorance of children, that, seen in other
countries, create an uneasiness as at the touch of something unnatural
and perverse. Here are the clear brows and smiling faces of those
who _know_, to whom sex is a necessary part of life, and motherhood
a pride and duty. They dress and adorn themselves, because they are
women, with a husband to please and to govern. Their sex is frank and
admitted: as women they know their place in the world and as women
they seek a retiring modesty. Their very aloofness, their seclusion,
gives them half their charm: and they know it. Not for them, for
instance, the dismal methods of American schools, where mixed classes
and a common play-ground rub away all the attraction of the sexes and
make their growing pupils dully kin like brother and sister. In India
women are so much valued and attain half their power because they are
only occasionally seen and seldom met. It is the rarest flowers that
are sought at the peril of life itself. It is for the women who live
veiled and separated that men crave, captives of passion at a first
quick-taken glance. A wife who is not the familiar companion of every
walk or game, who is never seen through the long business hours--with
what delight the husband, unjaded by the constant sight of women in
street or office, seeks her at last in the inner apartments where she
waits with smiles and flowers!


How natural they are--true, that is, to the natural instincts and
purposes of women, not without womanly artifice--is most apparent
from a contrast. Their shyness, even their self-consciousness with
men, is of a woman’s nature. Their love of jewelry, their little
tricks of manner, why, the very way they stand are, after all, the
natural derivatives of womanhood. Of motherhood they have no shame:
they celebrate marriage and childbirth frankly with a fine candour.
Their garments drape them in soft flowing lines falling in downward
folds over the rounded contours of the body--draperies full of grace
and restful. In Europe women still adhere to a deformity brought in
by German barbarism in the dark ages. With curious appliances, they
distort and misshape the middle of their bodies from quite early
childhood till--the negation of all beauty--in place of a natural human
figure appear two disjunct parts joined, as it were, mechanically
by a tightened horizontal band. From their passive acceptance of
routine, women will bear traditional deformity, in spite of illness
and the constant weariness of nervous disorders. What is difficult to
understand is that--with all their wish to please--they can endure
its patent ugliness. Pleasing is the contrast of the Indian mantle,
gracefully draped over head and shoulders and falling in vertical folds
to the feet, and of the gaily-stitched and neat little fitting bodice
of the Hindu lady. Her head with its smooth hair, decked with simple
gold ornaments or fresh flowers, half covered by the silken veil, is
well poised and beautiful.

She poses on it no twisted straws, dyed in metallic colours, no
fantastic covering, hung with pieces of dead bird.

The step of the Indian woman walking is a thing of joy. It has in it
nothing of the mincing awkward shuffle or of the disgracious manly
stride. But at her best see her walking in the country villages, where
her frame is trained to a graceful poise by the constant carriage of
water-pots balanced on her head as she steps unshod down the dusty
lanes or the sloping banks of the river.

[Illustration: SWEEPER]

In the villages, indeed, it is round the well that woman’s life
circles. Where the dry plains stretch away westward from Ahmedabad
over land cast back by the sea, the walls of mud-built villages stand
square against the blank horizon, where they were raised against the
raids of Kathi or of Koli freebooters. Here in the hot spring months
from March to July, before the grey rains turn the land to a sticky
swamp, the sun from dawn to its setting beats savagely; on the sand. In
these little townships, high-walled, with iron-studded gates, the women
have to seek the well early. An hour before the day, before even the
false dawn throws its silver flicker over the sky, they come from every
quarter to the one great well which supplies the place. Oh! the early
morning chatter which wakes one from his sleep! Ropes and buckets
splash upon the water and pot rings against brass pot. They come in
scores, of every caste and age, merchants’ wives and pretty _noblesse_,
cultivators and labourers, old women, widows and mothers, and little
naked children--how frail and tender their lines!--hardly able to
stagger homewards under the load. With hurried prattle they talk of the
night and the coming day, of the prices of the bazaar and the scandal
of a wanton neighbour or the coming visit of a priest. The day dawns
and the full white orb of the sun, white living heat like molten metal,
rises suddenly into the level sky. The women finish drawing water as
best they can and turn home. They walk straight, those women, two
copper pots balancing easily on the head, another large pitcher lightly
held against the hip, easily moving as they talk and smile. No wonder
if a young man, idly, may sometimes stroll towards the well. For some
there are who looking on these women of Káthiawád passing, with golden
skins and full oval faces, must say to themselves, as said Solomon,
“How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights: this thy
stature is like to a palm-tree and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.”

Next to the well, it is at the temple that the life of a woman centres.
For her every thought and act is moulded from childhood to the day
of death by the present reality of religion. Her childhood is an
adoration, marriage a sacrament, wifehood an oblation: in motherhood
she finds at once sacrifice and worship: while life and death alike
are a quest and a resignation. Life, as to herself she interprets it,
is not so much action as a response to divine ordinance, receptive
and submissive. She awaits love and may yield to joy: but she expects
them as a handmaiden, humbly, without striving and without insistence.
And the daily ritual in which her life of service finds its symbol is
the scattering of flowers upon the images of God, the singing of His
praises, and the circumambulation of His sacred shrine. At the temple
she makes her humble vows, for a husband’s kindness or the supreme gift
of childbirth. And there, from the fulness of her heart, she pours out
thanksgiving for the blessings of her state. And if at the end perhaps
she die childless and a widow, it is not singular if she leave her
wealth to the further endowment of the temple and the greater glory of
God Rama and his Sita, the divine pair of her worship.

The heroism of Indian womanhood has found its loftiest expression in
the Rajput nobility, with the great Queens who have fought and been
slain in battle or self-immolated on the funeral pyre: its piety is
a transfiguration in the Brahman and the merchant class: and woman’s
love with its transcendent ecstasy burns like a glowing ember on the
hearth of every soul. But for devotion to labour, uninspired by any
ideal other than its mere fulfilment, one turns to the menial castes
that, from century to century, have lived closest to their own soil.
Thus on the stony uplands of the Deccan, the women of the untouchable
Mahars--descended probably from some once ruling race, long tragically
overthrown--labour without respite in the hard fields at their
husbands’ sides. But, furthermore, they bear and suckle children, cook
the family food and do the work of their poor household. Ceaseless
labour it is, done without bitterness, in a humble resignation. A rough
life, yet not without redemption! Their hardships are recognized and
their pleasures shared: they stand side by side with their menfolk,
comrades by their service. They hold themselves upright, not without
the pride of service, and to the eye that comprehends, they have even a
rough attraction, like a picture by Millet, in their sturdy strength,
earthy and fruitful.

The book of Indian womanhood has many pages, and each page is
different, one from the other. Living in a wide continent, the speech
of one group of women is not as the speech of another. And in faith
they are not one, nor in blood nor habit. But though the leaves of the
book are of various type, yet they are all of one shape, bound in one
cloth and colour. For to all of them, above all else, is contentment
with their own womanhood, faith in religion and the natural hope of
love. An unremitting devotion and an unfailing tenderness, that is
the Indian woman’s service in the world; and it is her loving service
that has given its best to the land. India has had great preachers and
great thinkers, it has had and has brave soldiers. But more than the
men, more even than their best and bravest, it is the women who have
deserved well of the country. What they have won is the respect with
which all men behave to stranger women. It is a rule of Indian manners
that they should pass unnoticed and unremarked, even in the household
of a friend, and, except perhaps among the lowest ruffians, there is
none who would offend the modesty of a woman even by a gesture or an
unseemly recognition. They can pass in the midst of crowds, as nurses
pass in the most evil back-streets, without molestation or insult. For
the women of India have raised an ideal, lofty and selfless, for all
to behold: and they have come near its attainment. And with all its
self-sacrifice and abnegation, with all its unremitting service, the
ideal is not inhuman nor is it alien to the nature of womankind. It
allows for weaknesses, it is kind to faults, and it aspires frankly to
the joys of a fulfilment deserved by service. Not without reason did
the writers of old India liken the perfect woman of their land to a
lotus, in that she “is tender as a flower.”

Marriage in India

  “Thilke blissful lyf
  That is betwixe an housband and his wyf:
  And for to live under that holy bond
  With which that first God man and womman bond.
  ‘Non other lyf,’ sayde he, ‘is worth a bene:
  For wedlock is so esy and so clene,
  That in this world it is a paradys.’”

                        _Marchantes Tale._ CHAUCER.

Chapter II


In all countries, for a woman marriage has a significance not only
greater than but different in quality from the significance it has for
a man. It is not merely that to the man marriage is only one incident,
however far-reaching in its effects and values, among the recurrent
vicissitudes of life; while to the woman, even if it be so regarded,
it is at least the most conclusive of all incidents--that from which
depends not alone her own comfort but rather the fulfilment of her
whole being and function. A man’s life is made up of the intermittent
pursuit of many a quarry at the impulse of divergent passions,
projected from time to time in varying light upon the evenly-moving
background of the sub-conscious activities. He studies and his soul is
engrossed in the niceties of the arts or the subtleties of philosophy.
He finds satisfaction for his intellect and even his emotions in the
choice of the fitting phrase for a description. At another time he
rushes to sport, and, for many hours in the day and many days in the
month, finds pleasant fatigue and final occupation in stalking the stag
through the forest with its dry crackling leaves. In administration
he makes a career: and he may be busy day and night with problems of
finance, the just use of authority or the thousand questions of policy
in a developing civilization. Whatever his profession may be, his work
engages the greater portion of his life and all his highest and most
useful energies. A man’s pulse quickens its beat rapidly, and as easily
falls again to a slow extreme of indolence and indifference. He does
his best and finest work in the hours of rapid energy. It is then that
he fulfils those functions of creation and fruitful activity which
appertain to the male in the self-ordered organization of the world.
But among those his union with his mate is not the most important.
Rather it may be called the expenditure of a superfluous energy.
He needs his mate only in the moments of excited passion, when his
energies, unexhausted by duties that he counts more valuable, are at
their strongest. But as a companion he values the woman that is given
to him mainly in the hours of repose and leisure--those periods when
the over-stimulated mind and body sink to the level of an indolent
passivity. Companionship he seeks that his surroundings should be easy
and congenial, when his work is done and he is weary. Again, when a man
marries, he either has loved or will love other women and he knows in
his heart that the wife, who is to share and make his home, can be only
one, though perhaps the tenderest and sweetest, of his loving memories.
Herein, for the woman who gives him her love, is the irony. Only with
the man to whom all love is ashes and who can never kindle the fierce
flame of passion, can she expect the sole and exclusive possession to
which she is inclined by her own nature. From the man who can promise
her his only love, the gift is of little value and his love but the
thin shadow of a spectre. But she knows the man whose love is as a robe
of purple or a diadem of rubies cannot be for her alone, wholly hers.

[Illustration: FISHER WOMAN OF SIND]

To the woman, however, marriage is the incident of all incidents, that
one action to which all else in life--even the birth of her first
male-child--is subsidiary and subordinate. She goes to her mate, in
shyness and modesty, as to one who for the first time shall make
her truly woman. At his touch the whole world changes and the very
birds and flowers, the seas, the stars, and the heaven above, put
on a different colour and murmur a new music. In a moment the very
constitution of her body alters and her limbs take nobler curves and
her figure blooms to a new splendour. Her mind and emotions grow: and
the dark places which she had feared are seen to be sun-lit and lofty.
Marriage is to her more than an incident, however revolutionary. It
is rather the foundation of a new life, indeed a new life itself. For
her, henceforth, her whole existence is but the one fact of being
married. It is her career, her profession, her study, her joy, her
everything. She lives no longer in herself but rather as her man’s
wife. “Half-body,” the Sanscrit poets say, not untruly of the married

In India, even more than in Europe, certainly more than in Northern
Europe, marriage is to a woman everything. In early childhood she
becomes aware, gradually and almost unconsciously, of the great central
facts of nature. She lives in a household in which, along with the
earning of daily bread, all talk freely of marriages and the birth
of children. When a brother or sister is born, she is not excluded,
and no one tells her tales of mysterious storks or cabbages. As she
grows older, she hears the stories of Sita, the divine wife, and of
Sakuntala, the loved princess: and the glowing winds of spring and the
burning sun help to bring her to a quick maturity. Around her she sees
her girl friends given in marriage to flower-crowned boy bridegrooms,
brought on gold-caparisoned horses with beating of drums and bursting
fire-works and much singing to the bridal bower and the sacred fire.
She learns of widowhood and the life-long austerities imposed on a
woman whose sin-haunted destiny drags her husband to the grave. In the
household prayers she sees that her father needs her mother at his side
for the due offering of oblations and the completion of the ritual. Of
a woman unmarried, not a widow, she never hears and the very notion can
hardly frame itself on the mirror of her mind. No wonder that, with her
earliest reflections, she bends her thoughts upon the husband that is
to come and to be her lord, to whom she will hold herself affianced by
the will of God through all the moving cycle of innumerable deaths and

Matrimony in India, in nearly every case, is stamped by one of
two types, the marriage-contract of the Mussulmans, or the unions
sanctified in the vast and extremely complex social system that is
comprised under the general name of Hinduism. In theory, legally one
might say, marriage among the Mussulmans of India is a contract that
should in no way differ from that practised in other countries of
Islam. A man and a woman bind themselves or are bound by a voidable
contract which confers certain rights of maintenance and succession,
in consideration of mutual comfort and cherishing. The contract, but
not its sanction and consequences, can be repudiated at the man’s will
and, subject to certain intelligible limitations, at the claim of the
woman. In all cases proper and ample provision is and must be made
for the children. The woman who is divorced, or widowed, is in no way
prevented from entering upon a fresh contract with another husband,
rather she is encouraged and assisted so to do. Broadly speaking,
this is the legal position in every Mussulman marriage. No other
world-wide system has ever been so reasonable and so human. It is a
legislation passed through the mouth of its Founder for all followers
of the faith, as human beings bound in their relations to other men
and women only by justice, which is the ultimate morality of the
world. The interpretation of the Legislator’s act has varied slightly
in the jurisprudence of the “Four Pillars of the Faith,” the talented
authors of the four great law-schools of Islam. Among the Shiah sect
in Persia, also, the rulings have been somewhat modified and extended
in the judge-made law of the ecclesiastical courts: and contracts
for temporary marriages--marriages limited to a stated, sometimes a
short, period--have for example been recognized and ratified. But these
are all variations which show the more clearly how, in essence, the
matrimony of Islam is a thing of law, an agreement for certain purposes
and with certain consequences, between human beings regarded in their
capacity as agents in a very human world. That this should be so is, in
fact, a necessary consequence from the whole character of Islam. For
the very essence of Islam is its rationalism. God created the world
that He might be _known_. From the children of Adam He expects praise
and He exacts obedience and resignation. By His strength and will He
divides among them their shares of blissful or unkind environment.
But in the activities of human life, when they have satisfied the
requirements of prostration to the All-Powerful Creator, He leaves
them free to move as they will under the guidance of the highest human
morality--justice. In the verses that are concerned with the relations
between man and man, the Book of the Qor’an is as rational as the
ethics of Aristotle or the commentary of a student. Even the Persian
mystics, that were clad in wool, the children of the Tasawwuf--they who
represent Indo-Aryan mysticism outcropping from the level calculations
of the Semitic faith--sought, in the main, only to modify the attitude
of man to God. In place of obedience, with its scale of service and
reward, they set up a spiritual ecstasy of love, and in this love they
hoped to unite the human consciousness with the divine thought of
which it is a manifestation and in which it seeks absorption. But the
way with its four stages of ascent, by which they pointed the road to
final union with absolute Being, rarely traversed the ethics of human
action in the phenomenal world. With the commands of justice and with
the contracts which made possible and legitimate the companionship and
love of man and woman they never really sought to interfere.


This then is the plan, clear, reasonable, and humane. But in the
practice of India, it must be confessed, there have been many
deviations. They live after all, the Mussulmans of India, among a
population, of which they form but the seventh part, highly religious,
mystical, seeing in all things magic and the supernatural. In great
part they derive from the castes and tribes of Hindu India, converted
to the creed by conquest, interest, or persuasion. Large sections
still retain and are governed by the Hindu customary law of their
former tribe. The rich Mussulman merchants of Bombay, who traverse the
ocean like other Sindbads and seek their merchandise in the Eastern
Archipelagoes or in the new colonies of the African continent, peaceful
merchants of whom a large sect still perpetuates the doctrines of the
Shaik of the Mountain and reveres the memory, without the practice, of
the Assassins, follow in their domesticities and the laws of succession
rules whose significance depends from the mystic teachings of the Hindu
sages. In Gujarát the Mussulman nobility preserve with respect the
names and practices of the Rajput chiefs from whom they are descended.
They marry within families of cognate origin and transmit their estates
and dignities by a rule that is widely apart from the jurisprudence
of Islam. But that marriage is indefeasibly binding on a woman for
all time, even after death’s parting, so that the widowed wife may
never seek another husband--these are ideas whose ultimate basis is a
view of the world as a thing moved and deflected by magic and magical
interpositions. Yet these opinions of the surrounding Hindu population
have invaded the Mussulman household also. The proud families which
claim direct descent from the Prophet of Arabia have in practice
created an absolute prohibition of remarriage. And in many families
of temporal rank the same veto is observed, as having in it something
exclusive and patrician. Even among the common people, it is only the
first marriage which is known by the significant name of “gladness,”
while the corrector Arabic term has been degraded with a baser meaning
to the marriage of a widow. In practice, too, the wise provisions of
the law for dowries and the separate maintenance of a wife have been
neglected, while divorce is much discountenanced and the claims of an
ill-used or insufficiently-cherished wife to a decree are ignored or
even forgotten. Child-marriage has become the rule, and consent to a
life-long bond under a contract which has come to be regarded almost as
inviolable, is only too often given on behalf of the young girl by a
relation indifferent to all except wealth and position.

Yet such is the radiance, so purifying the chemistry of reason that,
in spite of superstition, it continues to oxidize and revive the
body which it permeates. The inroads of Mongol tribes from Central
Asia--recent and bigoted converts--laid low the body politic of Islam.
For five dark centuries Mussulman culture was turned into a wilderness.
In India Islam has been further obscured, as has been shown, by the
encroaching customs and feelings of peoples who conceived life on an
incompatible and magical apprehension. Yet the word of rationalism
was never wholly silent, and the thought of human justice in a world
of causation persisted, however feebly, to sweeten and humanize the
relations of men and women in the fundamental contract of matrimony.
The Mussulman woman in her family wields great power and influence. She
is consulted and made much of to an extent rare in most countries. The
words of the Qor’an are a constant inspiration to her husband; and he
knows himself to be bound to cherish as best he can the woman who is
described in Scripture as a field which he should cultivate and as a
partner to whom he owes kindness and protection. Under this inspiration
he can hardly fail to estimate at its highest the value of womanhood;
for even in heaven his promised reward includes the pleasures of
beautiful and enchanting women. Thus has Omar Khayyam written in the
188th Rubaiyat:--

  “They say there will be a paradise and fair women and black-eyed virgins,
  And there, say they, will be pure wine and honey.
  So if we adore our wine and our beloved, why, ’tis lawful
  Since the end of all this business will be even thus.”

The Mussulman religion idealizes above everything manliness and the
manly virtues; and it certainly does not undervalue the place of sex
in human life. Now, it is the virile man who yields most readily to
the sway of woman. His very vigour impels him to her side: and in the
reactions from enterprise and affairs he wishes to be soothed by her
companionship and delight. So it is true that the Mussulman woman in
India has seldom cause for complaint within her household. The day’s
labour done, husband and children gather in the inner apartments, where
she rules, and devote themselves to her comfort and entertainment.

Where she suffers, if at all, is from the too rigid custom of the
_purdah_ or female seclusion. What in India distorted the modest
injunction of the Prophet that women should veil their faces before
strange men to the excessive and even fantastic _purdah_ system, is a
question still hotly debated by Indian reformers and publicists.

[Illustration: PATHAN WOMAN]

Hindus accuse the Mussulman population of introducing the system:
Mussulmans point to the more rational habit of other Islamic countries
and lay the charge to the door of the Rajput nobility. Whatever may
have been the original cause, the results are sometimes ludicrous and
injurious. Applied as it is in the houses of nobles and rich merchants,
the custom is sufficiently tolerable and even advantageous. The ladies
have gardens in which to exercise their limbs: they drive in screened
carriages to see the town or enjoy the country breezes; they have
liberty to visit at all hours the houses of their women friends and
profit by their conversation. They have light and air and reasonable
freedom. Like many other points of aristocratic ceremony, the practice
of seclusion is valued largely by the inconvenience it causes to
others. It needs little knowledge of feminine nature to appreciate the
pleasurable sense of dignity it causes the wealthy _purdah_ lady when,
at a visit, she sees all male servants and even the owner of the house
sent hurrying to hide in remote corners while she makes her stately
progress from her carriage to her friends’ apartments. On her travels
she notes with pride the tumult in the crowded station when sheets
are held across the platform to seclude her from stranger eyes as she
slowly strolls to her compartment. But to apply the same etiquette to
the middle and the poorer classes is little short of madness. Yet there
are many parts of India, where the Mussulman population, and especially
their womankind, insist with melancholy pride on these observances,
whatever their poverty and decay. There are found in little crumbling
mud-hovels, clinging to the base of ancient forts and palaces, women
who spend their useless lives crouched in a dark ill-smelling room,
where the light of day and the breath of energy and aspiration can
never reach them. They bear feeble children: fall sick of a decline or
internal ailments: and go out in premature senility like a candle in a
choked tunnel. Fortunately the sturdy Mussulman peasantry of the north
know nothing of these follies: nor in Káthiawád and Gujarát do the
Mussulman artisans, who are here pictured, ruin their homes by this
disastrous aping of an aristocracy. But even with this drawback--one
maintained, it must be remembered, mainly by the same feminine lust
for pride and precedence which in England keeps the clerk’s wife from
cooking a dinner--it is in general true that the rationalism of the
system has produced mutual respect and affection, together with much
courtesy and chivalry, between the sexes.

The Afghan or Pathan woman is in many ways apart from her Mussulman
sister of the real India of the plains. Strong, virile, courageous, but
treacherous and illiterate, the Afghan tribes are still narrowly within
the pale of savagery. They are hillmen, living in secluded valleys
or rocky fastnesses, with the virtues of their kind, but far removed
from those urbane polities which in all languages and races have set
the type of civilization. In Islam the word for civilization is as
much derived from the word for “city,” “Medinah,” as in the languages
that trace their descent from the Latins. Of gentler qualities the
Afghans have no share. But they have strong passions, great thirst
for love, and the freeman’s respect for others’ freedom. The woman is
caressed and petted, loved with a passionate love, loaded with gifts,
and then--when old age breaks her vigour--too often cast aside with
the callous thoughtlessness of the savage. The men are jealous and she
lives always under the shadow of a knife, the long, thin, sharp-edged
knife of the Pathan, so quickly drawn across the throat at the first
whisper of dishonour. Herself passionate and hot-tempered, she too
blazes out in sudden rages, and the small dagger that she carries is
not unseldom used. Passion and excitement, quick pulsing heart-beats,
fiery love, splashing like scarlet flames upon the dusty background,
and then the slow neglected downward track of old age, that is the
Afghan woman’s life.

Mostly she is chaste and clings to her own man, till the last bullet
catches him full in the chest and his life gurgles out with the
bubbling blood. But she can also love greatly and superbly, like the
fine full-blooded creature that she is. There was such a girl once, a
child merely, fifteen years old, who from the barred windows of her
father’s house at Kabul, saw a young English officer ride past on his
charger with the ill-fated expedition. She came of royal stock and her
father was a chieftain of rank in the Amir’s service. Yet she learnt
the officer’s name, who can say with how many precautions and terrors:
and found he was still unmarried. When the troops left, she crept forth
too, this child of fifteen, and turned her face from her father’s house
and her people to follow the man she had chosen. She found her way
across the mountains by the wind-bitten passes, with little food or
shelter, till she reached the deserts of Sind and the wide stretches
of the Indus. Not till then was she safe from the avenging dagger.
Then slowly she traced her road till she came to the port of Karachi.
And there, in the new cantonment, with its strange avenues and houses,
she found the man whom she had sought. He, happily, was rich and of
distinguished family. He heard her story and married the brave girl who
had dared so much for his love. Then he brought her to England and had
her taught and trained, and she found favour at Court, and their lives
were happy.

Such the Afghan woman can be. The love which she gets--and
gives--echoes in the poetry of Lawrence Hope.

  “You are all that is lovely and light,
  Aziza,--whom I adore,
  And, waking after the night,
  I am weary with dreams of you.
  Every nerve in my heart is tense and sore
  As I rise to another morning apart from you.
  I would burn for a thousand days,
  Aziza, whom I adore,
  Be tortured, slain, in unheard of ways
  If you pitied the pain I bore.
  Give me your love for a day,
  A night, an hour;
  If the wages of sin are death,
  I am willing to pay.
  What is my life but a breath
  Of passion burning away?
  Away from an unplucked flower?
  Oh! Aziza, whom I adore,
  Aziza, my one delight,
  Only one night--I will die before day,
  And trouble your life no more.”


The Hindu Woman in Marriage

  ἀλλ᾿ ἐννοεῖν χρὴ τοῦ το μὲν γυναῖχ᾿ ὅτι
  ἒφυμεν ὡς πρὸς ἄνδρας οὐ μαχουμίνα
  ἔ πει τα δ᾿ οὕνεκ᾿ ἀρχόμεσθ᾿ ἐκ κρεισσόνων
  καὶ ταῦ τ᾿ ἀκούειν κἄτι τῶνδ᾿ ἀλγίονα.

                     _Antigone_, ll. 61 _seq._

  “But we must reflect first that we were born a woman,
  Not such as to strive against men: and then that as
  we are ruled by them that are the stronger, we must
  obey in these things and in things yet sorer.”

Chapter III


Marriage under the Hindu system is by no means easy to describe as
in actual fact it is. The definitions and classifications given in
the legal textbooks or Scriptures of the Hindus are little better
than abstractions--deductions from assumed premises of a theological
kind, with only a slender tie to the actual life of Hindu societies.
The difficulties of practice arise from the vast complexities and
fluid conditions of the great masses of peoples and races, with
divergent levels of culture and inconsistent ideas, that compose the
aggregate which for convenience is distinguished from all others by the
collective name of Hinduism. For Hinduism is, of course, in no real
sense a church or creed. It has no definite tenets and no articles
of dogma. The acceptance of a certain social system, centring upon
the existence of hereditary priesthoods with divinely-given powers of
interposition and interpretation, is its final criterion. This system
and its practical consequences once accepted, the man is free to
believe and follow what creeds or philosophies he may please.

Yet through it all there is a certain rather vague and elusive unity
of idea, a spirit, one might say, that in various forms penetrates
and transmutes the varying material of creed and caste, of blood and
race with which it is presented. In essence this is the spirit which
regards the whole world as an unreal dream, an illusory changing
scene of transformations, stretched over the realities of a higher
ultimate world of Divine unity. Laws and customs are based not on a
reasoned pursuit of the good as existent in this life; but upon the
means, magical or supernatural, of acquiring merit in a supposed
ultimate universe of timeless and permanent reality reached after
final severance from the circle of birth and death. It is a spirit
diametrically opposed to that Greek thought which placed before man
as his final and only aim happiness or the excellent performance of
function in the world we know. Hardly less is it opposed to the Semitic
creeds which project the purposes and rewards of virtue into a similar
world of similar perceptions and individualities conceived as existent
on a higher plane attainable after death. For the unifying spirit of
Hinduism, so far as it can be grasped as in any way _one_, rejects
the world altogether as a reality and places its virtues not in any
reasoned balance of human rights and duties, but in the observance of
rituals and austerities commended by the authority of a hierarchy.

Hence marriage also, as far as it approaches the ideal, is based upon
considerations that are non-rational and belong rather to a mystical
or supernatural way of regarding life. Marriage to the Hindu thinker
and idealist has nothing to do, in its ultimate causes, with the
preferences of one man or one woman, nothing to do with the pursuit
of happiness in a palpitating finite and human life. He sees in it
no free union of two human wills, joined for their own contentment
in an isolated human relation. Rather it is the connection of two
incarnations of the world spirit during an unreal moment of illusory
existence. The proper husband and wife are recognized and selected
by magical arts exercised under the authority of the Sacred Books
by certain classes of the priesthood. They are joined under a right
conjunction of the stars, interpreted by an hereditary expert in the
magic art of astrology. Their marriage is sanctified by miraculous
rites and blessed and transformed by the repetition of mysterious
Sanskrit phrases. They enter their new state purified as by a
consecration. In a word, they deal with a sacrament, not with a human
contract. It is not the satisfaction of human feelings that is sought,
but the fulfilment of a ritual duty to the family, in its relation to
the Divine Spirit.

This view of marriage, as an ordained sacrament, is manifested
throughout the actual ceremonies of the wedding, at least among the
castes that claim the higher ritual ranks. The bride and bridegroom
must belong to the same subdivision of the caste and yet must not be
related by a common descent from the same mythical founder of the
family. Before they can be betrothed, the horoscopes must be studied
by an hereditary astrologer to see that the proposed union does not
traverse any of the influences of the stars in their conjunctions.
Nowadays it is true that horoscopes have fallen somewhat into neglect
among the more “advanced.” These allege that the time is wrongly
found on any horologe except the old-fashioned water-clock and they
insinuate--what is no doubt often true--that the verdict of the
astrologer depends upon his emoluments. Thus even the most advanced of
Hindus, if they do without such advice, do so on the ostensible ground
that horoscopes are incorrectly delivered, not that in themselves they
are unreasonable. Again the marriage is made between children, so
that desire or personal preference shall not disturb the ordinances
of heaven. The ceremony can take place only in the auspicious months
when the constellations of Jupiter and Venus are in conjunction with
the sun. At the wedding symbolic presentments of the boy’s and girl’s
ancestors make more clear the significance of the wedding, as a mere
phase in a family existence, in which the individual is as nothing and
the race is all. When the moment approaches, the bride and bridegroom
sit, face to face or side by side before the objects of worship, their
right hands joined, a strand of red cotton round their necks, a cloth
drawn as a screen between their faces. The priests chant Sanskrit
verses, while the astrologer consults the water-clock, which is needed
to read the exact sacerdotal hour. Then when the moment has come and
the cloth is drawn, the pair turn round the sacred sacrificial fire,
and the seven steps are taken which make the marriage indissoluble
and eternal. The bridegroom turns to his wife and utters the sacred
verse, “Oh! bride! give your heart to my work, make your mind agreeable
to mine. May the God Brahaspati make you pleasing to me.” Then for
himself he swears not to transgress, whether for wealth or love. And
then they go out and look upon the Polar Star, that star which guided
the first Aryan wanderers across Asia.


A marriage of this kind, so solemn and so sacramental, cannot in the
lifetime of its partakers be severed or dissolved. Only the will of
God, executed by the cold scythe of Death, can grant a divorce. Until
death come, the pair is inevitably joined, to labour and pray together,
and to engender and bear the children who in time shall release
their parents’ souls from the purgatory of unfulfilled duties. The
Hindu theory is a deduction from two principles, one, the unreality
of individual appearance, the second, the unworthiness of sensuous

Marriage is a union of ephemeral beings for the sake of family and
community, and for the attainment of a worshipful elevation over
sense and the world of illusion. It is at once a consecration and
an initiation. The absence of that strong sexual passion which we
have clad in the jewelled veils of poetry and have baptized in the
romantic waters of love is not to the Brahman eye an impediment or a
disappointment. At the most the hope is for an ordered affection and a
disciplined devotion.

But the facts of human nature cannot with impunity be ignored. Ideals
based on a non-natural order of things may inspire noble poetry: but
they must fail when they are applied to large bodies of men and women.
Contracts founded upon causes and effects that are traced by reason can
be applied without much hindrance and at any rate without hypocrisy by
all those who can recognize facts. But there are few who are worthy of
or can benefit by a sacrament. The Hindu spirit has created splendid
images and has embodied in literature the characters of Sita and of
Damyanti, the wife who is all devotion and sacrifice, nobly courageous,
nobly patient. But, by its very distance from actuality, it leads in
the practice of every day to great hypocrisy and unnecessary hardship.
The danger has been foreseen by the lawgivers themselves: and they
have not dared to apply their ideal, even in theory, to others than
the highest castes of the hierarchy. For the warrior, the cultivator,
and the menial classes they have allowed different practices and
divergent ideals. Even in the practice of those Brahmans, to whom the
system should apply in its entirety, considerable concessions have
been authorized. In the unauthorized acts of every day life there
are even greater deviations. In one sense, of course, it may be said
that the theory of the highest Hinduism in regard to marriage is one
and indivisible; but marriage is, after all, the concrete contact and
companionship of a living, feeling man and woman, and the application
of the theory an affair of national character. Race and climate and the
influences of history have played their part in the Indian Continent
at least as much as in other regions of equal area. Even in the
priestly Brahman caste, the Brahman of the Deccan is as different from
him of the Punjáb as an Italian Marchese could be from a Prussian Graf.
They come from different strains, they live in different surroundings:
and the one bond is a common social system with some common ideals
under which they have both obtained their power.

In general, it may be said that the ideal has been humanized and
softened in all those parts of India in which Rajput or Mussulman
influences have at any time been powerful. In such regions, in Gujarát,
for instance, or in Káthiawád, the people have never taken kindly to
the mere negation of desire. A certain practical genius has always
turned their glance to the fruits of the earth and the pleasures of
the senses. Commerce brought them wealth and the desire for comfort;
from chivalry they learnt the lessons of gaiety and enjoyment. Among
them beauty is esteemed and desired; pleasure sought or demanded. From
a wife is expected charm and companionship, passion and pleasure. She
is treated as a human being, with the ordinary human capacities and
frailties; and she can exercise power and influence by her charms. She
may be loved as a woman; and she is often the object of jealousy; but
she is seldom deadened by that chilling respect which shrivels fresh

In the arid, ascetic Deccan, on the other hand, the woman is more
commonly disregarded. There she lives in an atmosphere where
sensuousness is reproached, though it may be practised. A man indulges
passion, if he do so at all, as a thing shameful in itself and
abominable, with stealth and self-abasement, in the grossest and least
urbane manner. If he yield to a sexual desire, it is without esteem or
regard for the partner in his sin. Towards the wife of a consecrated
marriage he preserves an attitude, which may be irreproachable, but
must certainly be unflattering to her womanhood. In the light of
religion, she may be regarded as a partner in a mystic union: but in
the household she is often little better than a housekeeper, contemned,
neglected, and never warmed by the glow of desire nor wooed with those
attentions by which men seek to please. Between Gujarát and the Deccan,
it is again the contrast, only intensified, between France and England.
On the one hand, power and pleasure and the charm of life--with perhaps
jealousy and a certain sense of the possibilities of human frailty. On
the other, coldness, a real contempt, and that callous reliance on an
unswerving chastity, which some have been pleased to call respect--and
which is so annoying even to the plainest woman.

Religion again effects a distinction. Those who adhere to the worship
of Shiva, the God of Destruction, the Lord of Death, the Master of
Ascetics, are apt to turn from the goods of this life to a final
absorption in an abstract oneness. But in Krishna, the very human
incarnation of God the Preserver, the inhabitants of the richer and
more fertile tracts of the continent have found a congenial saviour.
From the devotees of his creed he demands only love, a constant and
all-absorbing offering of the heart: and he bestows upon them in return
the free ease of the world through which they are passing on the way
to the love-laden groves of Paradise. While the followers of the
theology that centres upon Shankar see the universe as one, an abstract
God-in-himself, indivisible, unchanging, a pure spirit that alone _is_
and has being, and define the aim of life as, after reiterated births
into further action, the final liberation from the senses by absorption
into this infinite and unqualified spirit, the worshippers of Krishna
adopt a teaching which admits an eternal dualism. Force and nature,
spirit and matter, are to them an everlasting pair, which can never be
finally united. So they tend readily to a view of life in which man
and the Deity, as he can know Him, are circumscribed by nature, and
in which man can find salvation in the love of all things. And in the
love of all things, if there be inward grace, the enjoyment of the
nature that God has granted to the world must be allowable. Freedom is
attained when the enjoyment is unconditioned and the soul is wholly
united to the spirit of all nature. It is only the conditions of life,
and the need for transcending the wants of the world in order to reach
that grace in which God is directly felt, which can impose restrictions
and prohibitions. So, naturally enough, the disciple of the gracious,
kind, and loving Krishna is more likely to demand love from the
companion of life than the ascetic votary of Shiva. The practical
meaning of marriage is again very different in the warrior caste, now
represented by the Rajput clans. Comparatively recent invaders of mixed
Scythian and Turkish or Hunnish tribes, they almost alone in India have
become what in Europe is meant by a gentry or an aristocracy. Feudal in
their concept of the state, cavaliers and men-at-arms, seeking in war
a profession, in the acquisition of landed estates their fulfilment,
and in sport their relaxation, they have brought to the brown monotony
of India the splendour of gallantry, chivalry, and romance. Exempted
even by priestly ordinance from the oppressive asceticism that is in
general obligatory to the Hindu mind, they have formed for themselves
a code of honour coloured by the legitimate hopes and enjoyments of a
warrior clan. In the traditions of their caste they still preserve the
memory of the bride’s choosing. The suitors sat assembled, each in his
own place, in the palace hall, with sword and shield to his hand. The
curtain was uplifted and the bride stepped round the hall, a garland
of flowers on her arm. Then when she reached the man whom she chose to
be her own prince and beloved husband, she slipped the garland on his
neck. Thus they became man and wife, and no one could deny their will.
That time is long since gone, and no bride has now such a choosing.
Yet to this day the heroines of all Indian plays and the great women
of Indian poetry are all of the Rajput class. Marriage is with them
even now a practice adapted to the aristocratic temper partly from the
earlier Brahman books and partly from the traditions of Central Asia,
tinged also by the fashions set by Mussulman emperors in the Courts at
Delhi. Polygamy is recognized as lawful and is practised by the Ruling
Chiefs and the richer of their cadets. The maid-servant may be the
concubine of her master and the dancing girl who enlivens the Courts is
often in private a mistress. But great is the power of the wife behind
the curtain, deep and warm-blooded the love she hopes to win, great
also her valorous devotion. And through the whole fabric runs a woof as
of old, half-faded brocade, a thread of chivalry and pure reverence and
protective delight. A strand of silk at the wrist may make the Rajput
gentleman at any moment the knight-errant of a lady whom he shall never
see, and for whom his honour shall yet be as a brother’s.

But to the Rajput lady of a ruling house there is one special terror.
If death puts his finger on her husband, her life is too often
overwhelmed to an extent unnecessary and cruel. For herself remarriage
is forbidden: and a love-affair is often requited with secret poison by
her husband’s successors. For there are many who still hold that the
family honour can be stained indelibly by a woman’s lightness. Then
in her husband’s place may sit on the throne a rival’s son, who from
childhood has had his ears filled with bitterness. Her jointure may be
insufficient; even an administration is only too often unsympathetic
or unduly sparing of money; or the successor may by force or intrigue
attenuate the estate that was bequeathed. She finds interest no
doubt in the management of the lands that form her jointure, but her
seclusion places her largely in the hands of interested advisers. As
a rule, the downfall is more lamentable even than that of the Dowager
in Europe, except perhaps in Royal families. Suicide (_Sati_) on the
funeral pyre was in the past almost a release for the Rajput widow.
Among the smaller Rajput yeomanry, the case is better. Remarriage is
not unseldom allowed. At the worst, the wife has had no rival and
her own child succeeds; while, failing children, she finds with her
relatives the respect and kindness to women which is general in this
caste of manly gentlemen.

[Illustration: FROM JODHPUR]

Another group consists of the lower, but thoroughly Hinduized, working
castes. These run from the very low untouchable castes who are the
usual domestics of the European officer to the skilled artisan and
the cultivator. Their matrimonial regulations are a compromise (like
most compromises hardly “working”) between Brahman theory, economic
necessity, and obsolete primitive custom. They are influenced vaguely
by the usual ideals. Widow remarriage is however tolerated and
commonly practised, though somewhat looked down upon in the popular
regard. When the parties to the association are working men and women,
miserably poor for the most part, illiterate and unprogressive, it
follows naturally that the action of the system is conditioned mainly
by economics. Toil and labour, in field or factory or shop, is the
part of both, and the woman’s household work and the assistance of
the growing children are incentives to and conditions of the marriage.
They have no leisure for the finer sensibilities and, like the poor
in all countries, must have an eye ever open to the needs of food
and nutrition. Without much education and with little capacity for
refined emotion, it is not unnatural if there is sometimes disunion,
and if they seldom attain the heights. The husband in his cups may
occasionally beat his wife, or may have to sit with bowed head before
the storm of her boisterous abuse. Yet they compare favourably with
similar classes in other countries; and at the worst they shame the
terrors of European slums, the brutal wife-kickers and procurers who
lurk in the blind alleys of industrial life. It is true indeed that
the rapid growth of industrial labour in India also has adversely
affected the marriages of that class and that only too often an unhappy
union ends in elopement or prostitution. Generally, however, it may be
said that the Hindu husband even in this class seldom descends to the
grossness and cruelty so often found in the lower quarters of European
cities: while the wife forms and maintains a higher standard of womanly
conduct and devotion. An easier toleration marks their conjugal
relations and the Hindu character at its worst is commonly free from
the extremer modes of brutality.

Among the aboriginal tribes, the Bhils for instance, marriage is still
in a very fluid condition. The actual form that in practice it takes
depends inevitably on the extent to which the tribe has succumbed to
Hindu or rather Brahman influence. As it becomes subjected to that
influence, and as in consequence it aims at raising its rank within
the Hindu social system by the aping of higher castes, so it the more
readily adopts the worst accretions to Hindu matrimony, child-marriage,
for instance, and large dowries. But in general it may be said that
marriage among such tribes is a free association between youthful
adults, promulgated by certain payments of money or service to the
bride’s parents and relieved, if barren or unhappy, by an almost
unrestricted right of divorce. Pre-nuptial chastity is hardly looked
for, and neither man nor girl is much blamed for an early slip. After
marriage chastity is the usual rule. The attitude is in practice not
very dissimilar from the reasonable and natural outlook of the Scottish
peasant; and, as in Scotland, the net result is a state of general
happiness, easy and equal companionship, and very remarkable mutual
trust. The woman has much weight in affairs and not unfrequently holds
the purse. As in the country districts of Scotland, prostitution is
unknown, and the cruel ruin of a woman who has loved too soon is
practically unheard of. Widows of course remarry, and there is much
homely love between husband and wife and parents and children.

Another system still survives among the inhabitants of the southern
coast lands where the Arabian Sea beats against the palm groves of
Malabar. Here the tribes of the Nairs, formerly warlike and still
brave, headed by the ruling house of Travancore, maintain a marriage
system that dates from the earlier Dravidian culture which preceded
the Aryan invasions. Both among the Nairs--the noble class--and among
the priests, the Nambutiri Brahmans, an ecclesiastical and land-owning
aristocracy of peculiar sanctity, the customs of matriarchy prevail
in various degrees. Among the Nairs, for several centuries, the law
was of polyandry, pure and simple, the wife having several husbands
according to her own good pleasure. In late years the actual habit of
polyandry is to all intents defunct and only in very few cases, if
at all, could a Nair lady be found who consorts with more than one
husband. But succession is still traced through the female line and a
boy succeeds to his mother’s brother, not to his father. And in other
subtler ways the effects of polyandry are still manifest. Perhaps the
most curious survival is that the religious ceremonial of marriage--an
expensive and public rite--is performed at an early age with a man,
with whom the girl has no other connection than formal participation
in this ineffective sacrament. Much later comes what, in the European
sense, would be called the real marriage, with the husband whom she is
to cherish. This is a contract, entered into freely by both parties,
dissoluble at will. One of the elements of its popularity and success
is in this very freedom which has given the Nair ladies a position
enjoyed by few other Indian women. An attempt absurdly made to limit
this freedom by legislation, which gave an option to the parties
by an act of registration to introduce the usual disabilities of a
rigid matrimony, has proved an utter failure. An accompaniment of
the polyandrous or matriarchal system, which still prevails, is that
husband and wife do not live together. The Nair house is the abode of
a whole large family, based upon joint descent from a common female
ancestor. In the house or family mansion the apartments of the women
are together and are entirely separate from that part of the house in
which the men live. In this house the husband has no part or share;
but he comes to visit his wife in her apartment just as she goes
occasionally to visit him in the similar household in which, by his
descent on the mother’s side, he has a right to live. On the freedom
of choice exercised by a Nair lady in her mating there is little
restriction, save only the one that she must not choose a man of lower

The Nambutiri Brahmans, on the other hand, though they live among
the Nair tribes and are their priests, have gone no further than a
compromise between this system and the arrangements usually prevalent
among Brahmans. The results, like those of most compromises, have
been disastrous. Only the eldest son of a family marries. The rest,
when study of Scripture and the practice of ascetic simplicity
prove unsatisfying, seek consolation in indiscriminate seduction.
The immediate results of a theory so unnatural are polygamy,
burdensome dowries, marriages for wealth alone, and the seclusion and
bondage of women. In spite of the simplicity and candour of these
Brahmans--qualities which make them personally loveable even to
those who deplore their influence--their community has been gravely
injured by such marriages. Only the simplicity of their desires and the
earnest conservatism of their faith have made them tolerate a system so
unnatural and injurious. They bow with pious resignation to the will of
God, by which they mean the results of their own human folly.

Bitter must the contrast be to the secluded and austere Nambutiri
ladies when they see their Nair neighbours at the annual winter
festival which commemorates the death of Kámdev, the Hindu God of Love.
Long before daybreak, every Nair girl of any position is out of bed
and goes with her girl friends to the nearest tank. Plunging into the
water together, they sing in unison the song which is sacred to the
God of human hearts. As they sing, they beat the water, with the left
hand held immediately under the surface and the right brought down
upon it in a sloping stroke, splashing and sounding deep. Stanza after
stanza, song after song they sing till the first light of dawn peeps
over the cocoa-nut palms. Then they go back to their homes to dress in
their best and enjoy their holy day. They darken their eyelids with
collyrium and make their lips red with betel leaf. In the gardens they
play on swings with their friends. Then they sit down in merriment and
enjoyment to the noon-day meal of arrowroot and molasses with ripe
yellow plantains and green cocoa-nuts. Afterwards they again sing and
dance, while all good husbands on this day of days visit their wives in
their family mansions and make themselves pleasant to the ladies of
the family and bring little presents and friendly good wishes.

This system, strange though it appears to those who are familiar only
with Jewish and Teutonic customs, has been particularly successful in
securing the ends of every marriage--comfort, free development, and
the worthy upbringing of healthy children. In no class in India is
education better appreciated and more widely shared by the sexes. Every
Nair girl is sent to the village school, her education as much a matter
of course as her brothers’; while there are many who have matriculated
at the Madras University. At the same time, by the universal admission
of those who know them, there are few women in India who have greater
charm or exercise as valuable an influence on the manners and morals of

Marriage in Hindu India is, therefore, very various both in practice
and in theory according to the locality and the race or caste.
But regarded as a whole it presents, one may say, some common
characteristics. It is invariably a religious rite, sanctioned by
magical ceremony, really sacramental. Only in castes which allow
a widow to remarry is the second union divested of most of this
supernatural sanction, to become almost a free contract. Again
marriages are in general arranged by the parents or relations--with
the advice of priests and astrologers--while the husband and wife
are still children, either in real childhood or shortly after their
puberty. Further, in all the higher castes, and in lower castes as
they assume or usurp a higher position, widows are forbidden a further
marriage. Normally the idea of marriage in the classes in which Brahman
influence is most firm is accompanied by a certain ascetic thought,
which holds sensuousness and enjoyment to be something debasing and
earth-bound. The world of action being illusory and unreal, and each
action entailing its answering reaction, deliverance from illusive
appearances and absorption into the one final reality can be gained
only by passive withdrawal from activity. But all action springs from
desire: and the strongest and most attractive of desires is love.
Hence in marriage there should be no overpowering desires, none of
those impulses of emotion which keep the man bound during thousands
of incarnations to the idly-turning wheel of illusion. Only as a
deliverance from conflicting desire and as the means of continuing
family life is marriage in itself to be valued. Its happiness and
fruition are to be sought not in the tumults of passion but in the calm
and ordered affection of a disciplined and worshipful pair. From the
husband protection and self-restraint are due; from the wife to the
lord, whom heaven has given her, unflinching devotion, constant respect
and obedience, unwavering chastity.

But in some castes and places the ideal has been altered largely
by feudalism and chivalry, by luxury and an appreciation of human
happiness, and by the influences of a kindly humanizing belief. There
we find love welcomed and pursued, and the beauteous wife elevated
like a substantiation of that Krishna-spirit in which man attains on
earth to the love which is unending.

In general, Hindu marriage does undoubtedly, to a marked extent, reach
very closely to the purposes which it seeks. In general, it produces a
very real, if somewhat colourless, affection, an affection maintained
by common interests and the great bond of constant association. The
defects which it has are in the main the excrescences of a religious
system, such as are apt to grow wherever reason is displaced by
theological or supernatural commandment. When rationalism grows strong
enough to question the authority of priestly ordinance and tradition,
it will be possible without any very serious effort to prune them
safely from the sturdy trunk of Hindu life.

[Illustration: A MILL-HAND]

Child-marriage is, of course, that one of all its features which has
been most violently attacked. But it may be doubted whether those
who have attacked it have always had a clear understanding of its
significance. Real child-marriage--the wedding of children who have not
yet reached puberty--is after all nothing more than an indefeasible
betrothal. And in itself it is a logical and natural deduction
from a theory which postulates the selection of the bridal pair by
supernatural agency, working either through the divinations of an
astrologer or through the parents’ careful affection. Any element of
personal choice and free-will would be repugnant to the underlying
thoughts and must to a large extent be subversive of the social and
moral superstructure. Free-choice could be introduced generally only by
a substitution for Brahman regulation of something quite other--as the
warrior castes, for instance, extorted for themselves from a submissive
hierarchy a different scale of moral values. Moreover, in practice
child-marriage has some clear advantages. For it allows the wedded
pair to be brought up together, as children only, in their parents’
houses, till in time they become habituated to each other’s company
and affection, while gradually they come to know and learn their place
in those large households to which their future lives belong. The
Hindu married couple can live in no independent isolation like the
European. Rather they will be but one unit of a great family household
managed on behalf of all by its eldest members. The real marriage,
the consummation of their growth to man and woman, comes much later,
after many years perhaps, when the parents at last give their consent
to the grown student and the healthy maiden who helps daily in the
household tasks. Rather it is not the child-marriage that is so much to
be deprecated as the marriage that succeeds, as in some castes it does,
too quickly upon puberty. For, by an unhappy ignorance, puberty is in
India only too often thought, as it was thought in the Europe of the
Renaissance, to be maturity; and the marriage thus concluded is at once
made real.

In fact, in both cases what is needed is a little more scientific
knowledge and the embodiment of the knowledge in the Penal Code. Cases
occur only too frequently of the martyrdom of young brides, not so
much from cruelty, or even from uncontrolled passion, as from sheer
ignorance of scientific fact. It has become a superstition, supported
of course by the usual authority, that puberty means maturity, not
merely for love--which would be sufficiently misleading--but even for
child-bearing. Here it is that rational education must enter the field.
In a country in which knowledge is luckily not accounted shameful, it
is easy for education to explain that puberty is only the beginning of
a new period, and that love’s first blossoms must not be followed by
too early fruit.

In this respect the practice of Hindu marriage unhappily does show a
fault of the most serious and terrible kind. If education has still
much to do, the state of the law most certainly requires improvement.
It is sometimes said that the Penal Law of India at present does
not give adequate protection to girls who, for various reasons, are
unmarried. But silence is usually kept about the far more serious fact
that it provides practically no protection to the married girl. In
her case the age of consent has actually been fixed at twelve; and no
child of more than twelve can claim protection from the law against
the brutality of the man to whom she has been married. Obviously the
limit of age for the protection of girls should be the same in all
cases, whether she be married or unmarried, whether she be the victim
of the man to whom she has been joined beside the sacred fire or of
one who owes her no special duty. It is the most obvious confusion of
thought which fails to see that the offence, if it is one, is exactly
the same, whether or not a mystical ritual has been first observed. The
_thug_ was no better than a common strangler because he first prayed
to Bhavani before he murdered. The offence is the same in all cases;
the punishment should, if anything, be more severe to the man who is
peculiarly bound in duty and in honour to cherish the woman he has made
his wife. The State is now prepared to protect against perversion a
class of women who, on an outside estimate, do not exceed one-hundredth
of the population and who _ex hypothesi_ are of a position and
character somewhat less than reputable. But the State denies its
protection to the other ninety-nine women of each hundred, the mothers
of the country, the honoured helpmates of its households.

The harshness is made the greater by vices which, though forbidden,
have in practice become common. The sale of daughters is an offence
against which the sacred writings of the Hindus strongly and
consistently inveigh. Yet in only too many cases parents do little
else than sell their girls in marriage to the highest bidder. The sums
of money which they demand and which they use, not for the daughter’s
benefit, but for their own, are so large that they are forced to accept
a suitor of sufficient substance without regard to fitness or religious
sanction. Of the higher classes many nowadays revolt against such
conduct, which they recognize to be wicked and despicable. But in the
lower castes it is still general. The inner motive of such actions
is, of course, the ignorance, quite as much as the selfishness, of
the father. Too ignorant to comprehend that a human soul is an end in
itself and that a daughter is also a free human being, he looks on her
with besotted eye as a mere instrument of his own betterment. Hand in
hand with this evil, and dependent from it, is the terrible practice
of giving young brides to elderly husbands. In no other country could
the results be more disastrous or the girl-wife more unhappy. Vallabh,
the Gujaráti poet, has expressed that wretchedness in a beautiful song,
which has had some influence in abating this social evil. From it the
following lines are quoted, addressed to the Goddess Mother:--

  “Goddess mother, old is the husband thou hast given me,
  Mother, accursed is this coming to life of mine. Alas, what more can
                                                                I say?
  Goddess mother, a little child am I and he a great lumbering, aged man,
  My youth is like a blossom and my husband is a shrivelled mummy.
  Mother, mine are just sixteen years and he has seen his eighty.
  Goddess mother, of a winter’s night there is many a taste one feels,
  But doltish is old age, and my husband is deaf and dumb.
  Goddess mother, sportive am I and would like to play and I make my eyes
  But, mother, he, he says, ‘I’ll beat you,’ and lifts his stick in his
  Old is my husband, mother, what good can come out of age?
  Goddess mother, on the festival all the girls are gaily dressed and
  But my husband is tired and weak and ugly, and I bend my head in shame.
  Mother, my hair is black and his head is all white or grey.
  My youth is at its blooming and already my life is wrecked.
  Goddess mother, why was I not strangled at birth, why was I not poisoned?
  Yet if my husband die, it is my part to be true to death.
  Nay, Goddess mother, with joined hands I pray at thy feet,
  When I am born again, give me a husband that is young and strong.”

But as long as society tolerates the acceptance of money by a bride’s
father, so long will there be parents to be tempted by gold to sanction
their children’s ruin. And even then there will persist a deeper
reason. For girls are all early married and widows may not marry a
second time. So, even against his will, an elderly man is forced, if he
wishes to have the legitimate and socially-sanctioned companionship of
a woman, to seek in marriage one of the young girls who alone are in
India available for a suitor.

The prohibition of widow remarriage has also been bitterly attacked,
often by those Indians who, from education or environment, have been
affected by rationalism, sometimes by those who find a false pride
in the imitation of foreign custom. But the prohibition is not of
course universal. Those castes which have not yet set up a claim
to the higher ceremonial purities, are free to compound with human
desires by a second marriage, devoid of sacramental significance. It
is in the higher classes that the woman may have to pay for the pride
of caste by her individual austerities. Yet against the prohibition
of widow remarriage may be set the terrific wastage in Europe of
chaste and unmarried women. It has not at least entailed upon Indian
society that narrowing and unnatural education which Europe has seen
itself forced to accept, with all its consequent evils, and which is
perhaps inevitable if chastity is to be required as their highest and
sometimes their only virtue from women who are in every case condemned
to a lengthy and, in a vast number of unhappy cases, to a life-long
celibacy. In India a woman is at least allowed to _know_ and to be
natural; for an early marriage gives her in her ripening maturity the
fitting fulfilment of her womanhood. And, even at the worst conjunction
of destiny, the ideal of devotion crystallized in an unbroken widowhood
is, in itself, no ignoble aspiration. The unflinching veneration that
a son gives to his widowed mother is in India no small recompense for
her sacrifice to a sacred duty. Widowhood is recognized by all as a
state--divinely imposed--of austerity and atonement. But it has its own
quiet rewards in the family home, with its sense of duty done, like a
nun’s or a Sister of Mercy’s. It is harsh in those castes, which have
merely adopted a custom, when the inspiring ideal is not felt living
in their hearts, deep and intense. And it is also harsh in those cases
where the original thought has been warped by an exaggerated deduction
or where punishment is too rigorously exacted for illicit infringement
of the rule. At least in the case of the child-widow, betrothed indeed
by a sacrament, but never really wedded, some speedy relaxation of
the rule appears desirable: and it is probable that, with the decay
of faith and with the new scepticism about blessings conveyed by an
astrologer’s predictions, some such amendment will soon ensue.

A deeper objection to the Hindu system is one which has been seldom,
if ever, expressed. Racially, the absence of that natural selection
which expresses itself in sexual desire, cannot but be detrimental.
It is perhaps vain to expect a vigorous childhood to be born from
unions in which healthy desire is replaced by the coldness of duty or
by an instinct that has not been transfigured by personal attraction
and selection. The difficulty is inherent in a system which bases
its selection upon the supernatural and rejects the natural call of
spirit to spirit and sense to sense. And yet it must be confessed, not
without shame, that a careful selection by parents, if it could be
trusted to be rational and disinterested, might be no more injurious
than the restricted and illusory choice, too often made in ignorance,
which so far seems to be the only substitute that civilization has
learnt to provide. In general, it may be said that the Hindu rules
of marriage are, in the ordinary sense of happiness, as conducive
to the happiness of the spouses as the fast transforming systems of
modern Europe, and that their happiness is less self-centred and more
altruistic. Romantic love is, after all, most commonly, even in Europe,
the short-lived flower of life in one sex and one class. Marriage
must everywhere be in practice limited and artificially restricted.
Economic conditions are very near the base of most marriages; and
even in the richer classes must be a main constituent of the bride’s
decision. Moreover, for the lasting purposes of marriage, affection
is no bad substitute for love--affection and the sense of destined
consecration. It may at least be asserted that, in general, among the
upper castes of India the mingled feeling of duty and devotion is as
strong as, and perhaps more stable than, in the corresponding sections
of English society. In many places, however, and in many castes, the
soft bloom of companionship and emotion is bruised by the brutality of
a first union with a partner before unknown and undesired. Nor can it
be denied that the gnostic asceticism, to which Indian idealism has
so often condescended, has killed, where it could, that joy in a free
humanity which alone can invest marriage with the flaming beauty of
love. When the value of love is considered as an inspiration to art and
chivalry and, indeed, to every creative activity, then the loss, thus
self-inflicted, will appear in all its gravity. It may well be that the
deathly slumber of the arts in modern India is to no small extent due
to spiritual conditions which exclude and condemn the love which is
profane, and is therefore alive and immortal.

[Illustration: A MAHAR WOMAN]

The Ladies of the Aristocracy

  “Love in full life and length, not love ideal,
  No, nor ideal beauty, that fine name,
  But something better still, so very real
  That the sweet model must have been the same.

  And oh! the loveliness at times we see
  In momentary gliding, the soft grace,
  The youth, the bloom, the beauty which agree,
  In many a nameless being we retrace,
  Whose course and home we know not nor shall know
  Like the lost Pleiad seen no more below.”

                               _Beppo._ LORD BYRON.

Chapter IV


What exactly it is which constitutes an aristocracy, at any
given time or place, is not always easy to define. In Europe, in
general, aristocracies are based upon the survivals of feudal fiefs
or sometimes upon Court distinctions--but how greatly altered,
broadened, twisted, and transmuted! In India special considerations
have arisen to complicate the question. For all through Indian
society there run, on different curves, double classifications,
each traced by divergent forces. On the one hand, as in all human
societies--unhappily imperfect--lies the great universal distinction
which one calls rank, distinction of power, that is, and official
authority, with distinction of wealth as accompaniment or even as sole
qualification. On the other side lie the less natural--shall they
be called unnatural?--distinctions of a hierarchic classification,
peculiar to this continent and the Hindu faith. In this hierarchy,
the classification is not by power as tested and exercised in the
world, open and plain to all men, but by a claim to power over
supernatural forces, acquired by religious merit, not necessarily in
the individual life but perhaps in lives assumed to have occurred in
past transmigrations. But, as the saint spends in study and prayer
the hours during which conquerors are active with sword or sceptre, so
religious merit does not necessarily bring wealth or authority--with
which indeed it should be incompatible. Moreover, religious austerities
and abnegations spring from or produce a character, to which the vices
and virtues of a feudal aristocracy are alike opposed. So though
the Brahman is in the hierarchy of caste by universal recognition
infinitely the highest, so much indeed above all others as to be by
mystic ordinance “twice-born,” though he is ceremonially pure as purity
itself, though his life is sacred and his blessing a reward, his curse
a menace and a doom, yet in no actual sense can his caste be said to
form an aristocracy. A few there are among the caste who have risen to
royal state and rule lands as princes; but even in them the qualities
of human leadership are overwhelmed by the traditions of a scholar race
and a consecrated people.

Actually, therefore, it may be said--if words are used in the usual
sense--that the aristocracy of India is composed of the Mussulman
nobility and of the second or Kshatriya class of Hindus, the ruling and
fighting houses of the land. And of these at once the most interesting
and the most important are the tribes known collectively under the name
of Rajputs, “sons of kings,” as the word would read in English. They
are, of all the people of India, the most gallant and picturesque.
Almost they are Indian chivalry itself. In India, the homes properly
speaking of the Rajput tribes are in Márwár, Mewár, and Káthiawád, in
the tracts, that is, which stretch from the centre of the Continent to
the sands of Sind and down to the base of the Peninsula, as well as in
the province that projects into the Ocean to the West. From the desert
of Bikanir and Jodhpur, where water has to be sought by shafts hundreds
of feet below the level of the scorching sand, to the forests and glens
and rocks of Mewár and to the fertile plains that roll across Gujarát
to the Arabian Sea, they rule or hold their lands on service tenures,
and hunt and shoot and make love and yearn for battle. Bikanir,
Jodhpur, Rutlam, Jamnagar, Baria, and how many other names there are
that in the Great War have made dear the Rajput clans! They have borne
the flag as fighting gentlemen to France and Flanders, to East Africa,
and the plains of the Tigris and Euphrates. The recital of their deeds
and glory is a task, alas! for other pens. Be it for these lines to
make something plain of the manner of their daily life at home.

But first a few words must be written of their history. For without
some such knowledge, there can be no understanding either of India or
of the qualities for which the Rajput stands. Modern India, as it is
now known, came to shape in the nine hundred or thousand years that
passed from the day of Alexander to the Mussulman conquests. Before
that period there was an India, still reflected in the Scriptures and
in the living beliefs of the people, when Aryan immigrants furnished
rulers and priests to dark Dravidian masses, cousins of those who still
people the South Sea Archipelagoes, peoples who even now form the
staple of the Southern Indian population, those who speak Tamil and
Telugu and migrate as labourers not only to Ceylon but even to Fiji and
Jamaica and Trinidad. But after the division of Alexander’s Eastern
Empire, that vast half-obscure series of invasions began which changed
the face of the greater part of the Indian continent and altered all
the constituents of its population. From the Bactrian Empire and its
Hellenized inhabitants, came Menander with the Ionians--Yávans as they
are known in Indian history. From the Oxus valley and Central Asia
came the Scythian Sákas and the Kusháns. And all of these accepted
the Buddhist faith and ruled kingdoms and helped learning and founded
new families. Then, in the end of the fourth and throughout the fifth
centuries, this India already so transformed, was flooded by the
vaster, all transmuting hordes of Gujjars and White Huns. Each horde in
turn swept into its embrace something of its predecessors, each being
widely mixed and composite. So to the last in all those conquering
peoples--and the Huns were a people on the move and not an army--there
were elements of Greek and Turk, Avar and Mongol, and Persian and
Caucasian--all the elements in short that go also to make up Eastern
Europe and its nations. Those were the peoples from whom descend the
Kshatriya caste of modern India, these fine well-mannered fiery
sportsmanlike Rajputs, who are the pride of their country. They look
like any Hungarian nobleman or Georgian chief; and all the centuries
spent in enervating climates and an austere faith have not taken from
them their dash and passionate fervour.

They are Kshatriyas now, it has been said, these Rajputs from
Central Asia. For from of old the classic, if academic, division of
the Indian peoples has been supposed to be in four great caste or
class abstractions, of which the second or warrior class is known as
Kshatriya. And in fact it was into this caste that the invaders were by
artful priests assumed to be adopted. The first hordes, from Bactria
and the Oxus, had become followers of Buddha, a casteless faith in
which the Brahman priesthood lost its privileges. But the later comers,
the Gujjars and Huns, with their adoration of fire and sun and moon,
were quickly persuaded to the Hindu system and the acceptance of the
Brahman priesthood. So they slew as they conquered and extirpated the
adherents of the reformed creed. And for reward they obtained the
rank of Kshatriya and genealogies of the true Aryan breed. Those who
were soldiers and founded states or formed the fighting men-at-arms
of the clan maintained the rank, and are the Rajputs of to-day. The
rest, as they settled down to trade or craftsmanship or as each by
the succeeding horde was engulfed, and, where it was not absorbed,
oppressed, brought to the multitudinous castes of upper India that
Rajput element which is still strongly marked by Scythian tribal names
and even by customs or appearance. It was a clan system, something
like the Highland clans. Just as Macdonalds or Camerons absorbed into
themselves earlier Picts or later broken septs, so did even the proud
Sesodias of Udepur, one must suppose, take into their tribe in the
first rush of conquest many converted Sákas or Kusháns, broken tribes,
it may be, who were useful recruits, or perhaps at times some powerful
leaders. As the Highlander going to Glasgow or the Lowlands, lost his
nobility and became artisan or weaver or tradesman, marrying with
the common people and shedding his pride and distinctions, so of the
Central Asian fighting tribes there were many who descended to the
common level of the working population.

[Illustration: LADY FROM MEWÁR]

Now the Rajput tribes for over a thousand years have been the kernel
of Indian aristocracy. They have lofty genealogies which trace their
trees to roots in mythology, to birth from fire or the personified
sun and moon. The god Krishna, a Kshatriya chief, indeed, of real
but hidden fact, mixed inextricably with the ancient concept of a
cloud-god, powerful in some forgotten Aryan home, has his place
as divine progenitor in many a family tradition. They have their
professional bards who sing the epics of their race and preserve the
records of their families and descent. For a thousand years they have
spent the lustres fighting, tumultuous, each chief with his following
against his neighbour, always divided, yet throughout in no mere lust
of acquisition but in the spirit of a sport, sought for its own sake,
governed by the rules of chivalry. Throughout Rajputana and Káthiawád,
their castles stand on every eminence. Thence they could sally forth
upon a foray, or in them, if the worst befell, sustain a brief siege.
Younger sons either went out to carve themselves a career and perhaps
a kingdom with the sword or received an appanage, half-independent, in
which they governed as vassal princes. The chief ruled with a power
absolute and arbitrary; but he had to rule as a father among his
children. The clan obeyed, as a child obeys his father; yet withal
there was always a curious feeling of equality. They were all of the
same blood, they felt, high or low, born to carry arms, all gentlemen;
and the chief was no better than his poorest brother, except that
God had given him as eldest of the older line the right of decision
in affairs. For their estates the clansmen paid by service, each
according to his fief serving in person or with subordinate horsemen
and men-at-arms. To this class belong the women who have been India’s
heroines, the women whose names survive in story, brave with the brave,
tender and true. Best known of all, perhaps too well-known again to
bear mention, are Padmini, the princess of Mewár, and her no less
courageous companions and maid-servants. For she was beautiful, of a
beauty so surpassing as to bring ruin to her own people. ’Alá-ud-din,
the great conqueror, heard of her fame and contrived to see her
features in a mirror. Then, having looked, he swore that she must be
yielded to his passion or, if not, that Chitor, the capital of Mewár,
should fall. Finally, when it was no longer possible to resist and
the impregnable fort was only too clearly pregnable by the enemy,
Padmini called the wives and daughters of the fighting men and told
them what was in her mind. In the vaults deep within the core of this
strange hill fortress, they piled wood and straw and built themselves
a vast pyre. Then with a farewell to the soldiers who were to charge
in one last sortie upon the enemy, the women went down the steps to
the supreme offering and laid themselves upon the logs of burning wood
and died. In this way the women of Chitor--without one to shrink or to
draw back--preserved for all time the memory of Rajput honour and the
exaltation of Rajput womanhood.

Even to-day, without a doubt, there are within the _zanánas_ of Mewár
many women of a spirit no less sublime. The honour of the family, that
is a sacred flame which they feed in their hearts with ever renewed
fuel of self-sacrifice and devotion. That is a repute, which, even
when they sin, they seek to preserve intact; and they know only too
well that infraction of this law brings with it death. The women live,
with few exceptions, in the strictest seclusion, seeing no male person
except their husband and occasionally an uncle or a brother. But, in
despite of privacy, the fame of their conduct is whispered abroad and
their influence in affairs is only too often felt, even by Political
Agents and Residents. In a chief’s household, there may be two or three
wives, each with her separate establishment and her appanages. The
management of her estates alone demands a good deal of intelligence and
force of will. Handicapped as she is by being forced to converse with
her stewards through a curtain, behind which she remains invisible, it
is remarkable with what ability many a Rajput wife or widow controls
the administration of her funds, though sometimes unhappily she may
become the victim of fraud or specious appearances. The popular
estimation of the Rajput ladies’ talents is shown in the Gujaráti
proverb, “The clever woman’s children are fools, and the foolish
woman’s children are clever,” in which the former is the Rajput woman
with her impetuous and often imprudent sons, and the latter the cunning
Bania trader with his usually awkward and futile mother.

Only experience can show how deep, and sometimes how perverted, is the
respect for family honour; how hard the duty imposed upon women to
preserve it above all things else at any cost. Some years ago, a young
Rajput gentleman in an access of insane rage murdered his stepmother
in her room. He had a sister, a girl of eighteen, still unmarried, who
was sitting beside the pair and saw the murder done before her eyes.
As it happened, a Government officer was near the place, got early
information, and by a forced ride through darkness over forest tracks
was able to reach the scene of the murder by midnight. He went at once
to the girl’s quarters and, while respecting the custom of purdah,
insisted upon speaking to her in person. The girl was still shaken
by the murder that she had witnessed, her nerves upset, her night
sleepless, her mind a vortex of cruel impressions. Under the skilful
questioning, she soon broke down, and--told the truth! She recounted
the facts as they had happened; and the facts were that her brother,
the head of the family, was a murderer. But thereafter the girl
remained unmarried, no Rajput of lineage, however poor, being found to
accept in marriage a Rajput maiden who by the mere truth had fixed in
the public eye a stain on the family name.

Of Rajput wooings there is still many a romantic story to be told. In
one of the smaller states there had been some talk of marrying the
daughter of the house to a greater chief. The young lady, a girl of
about fifteen, exceptionally beautiful and graceful, well-educated,
a writer of excellent letters both in her own and in the English
language, managed to get hold of a photograph of the proposed
consort and incontinently fell in love with the pictured image. The
negotiations met with unexpected difficulties and the project all but
fell through. The young chief, who had not seen her, was indifferent
and accepted an offer from a more powerful state, where he married
the young princess, almost a child. This was so far from damping the
other lady, that it served only to inflame her further. The greater
the difficulty, the more determined she was to win the man whom she
now loved with a bitter passion. She wrote, she intrigued, she guided
the negotiations herself, she entreated and schemed and insisted. At
last she was successful, and the young chief came to wed her as his
second wife. Throughout the ceremony, he was indifferent, almost bored.
From his manner it was plain that he married only as a duty, because
he was a gentleman, bound to a promise which he may have thought
himself cheated into giving. But, the ceremony over, he went according
to custom to eat the first meal with his new wife and for the first
time to see her face and listen to her speech. In less than an hour
everything was changed. Fired by her immediate charms, he burst all
the bonds of etiquette and carried his bride off to his own tents. He
made her his queen and put her like a seal upon his heart. For the
child whom he had formerly married there was little thought, and the
new bride, who for so many years had loved him from his portrait with a
passionate eagerness, became the ruler as well as the loving servant of
her prince.

The daily lives of these Rajput ladies of Mewár and Márwár may not
have many deep interests but they are by no means empty. Among the
greater chiefs, the woman’s life is the usual life of palaces, with
luxuries at command and with corresponding duties. There are servants
to order and affairs to manage. Most ladies read and hear recitations;
maid-servants sometimes sing; and children have to be cared for and
tended. Sewing is a common amusement in which most Rajput women are
expert. Occasionally a Rajput girl is heard of who, in the remoter
districts, goes out riding or even shooting, dressed sometimes as a
man, though seldom indeed can such amusements, in a caste which follows
the seclusion of women, be entertained after childhood. There are,
however, among advanced chiefs with modern ideas not a few instances
in which there is a tennis-court in the palace grounds for the ladies,
where the wives play together or with their husband and his nearest
relations. And there are some rare States where even the semblance of
seclusion is being discarded and the ladies drive abroad or shoot big
game in the jungle.

These, however, are the liberties of the great. Among the lesser
nobility, where riches are usually wanting and position has to be
maintained by a stricter observance of traditional rule, the manner
of life is busier, with less need of pleasure-seeking. In such a
minor country-house, the wife will usually rise with the sun. If her
mother-in-law is alive, she goes first to her room and wishes her a
good morning. Then comes, what is in all such households a duty of
first importance, the care of the dairy-farm with its noble white cows.
The milk and whey is always distributed to servants and dependents by
the lady herself. That done, she has a bath and says a short prayer for
her husband, sees the children have their breakfast, and visits the
kitchen. The proudest nobleman’s wife would think shame of herself,
if she did not superintend the cooking and at need take a hand in the
baking of cakes and special delicacies. She sees to it that her husband
and all male guests--usually numerous--have their breakfast before she
herself eats her meal with her women. In that hot land, all sleep who
can in the middle of the day, and the Rajput woman is no exception.
When a couple of hours later she rises, she seeks for some amusement
for the afternoon. All Rajput ladies are brought up from childhood
to the strictest care of their persons and are taught even physical
exercises. Before they are married they have learnt every device by
which they can preserve or heighten their beauty and every art by
which to sharpen their husbands’ zest and devotion. For this purpose
there are many things they learn which in Europe would be disapproved.
But it is largely due to this care that they are faultlessly neat,
fair, and attractive, and that so often their beauty lasts to advanced
years. Thus in the quiet afternoon hours one of the frequent amusements
is to inspect and brush clothes. Ladies keep large wooden chests,
hasped and bolted with iron and often beautifully carved, very like
the bridal chests of the Italian Renaissance. In them are stored the
clothes in whose neatness and beauty they place their vanity. One by
one they are taken out by the maid-servants and dusted and shown to
the mistress and refolded and put back. It is a poor woman indeed who
does not have at least fifteen to twenty skirts, from the cheaper
cotton or red Turkey cloth to the richest silks and gold embroidery.
Mantles _(Saris)_ are at least as many and of bodices there may be
forty or fifty. The maid-servants who fold the clothes are a notable
institution. Rather household slaves than servants, born and bred in
the house, and almost of pure Rajput blood themselves, they are the
intimates of their mistress. One or two of them there will always be
who have been her affectionate companions since childhood and have,
on marriage, accompanied her to her new home. Such a girl is the
lady’s confidant and constant comrade, who looks to all her comforts,
rubs her down after her bath and does skilful massage, knows all her
secrets, brings her all rumours of the world, sleeps at her side in her
husband’s absence, and is her much cherished friend. Often, especially
in youth, the two spend their afternoons sewing together. Amongst the
Rajputs of Káthiawád, besides the pretty bodices that they often sew
themselves, it is the custom for girls to embroider fringed strips of
cloth for hanging across doors or squares to fasten upon walls for use
as ornament at marriages and festivals. Little pieces of glass or mica
are let into the embroidery and the patterns very much resemble those
still sewn by peasant women in Hungary, whither they were also brought
from the same tribal centres of Asia. Reading, visiting, chatting take
up the rest of the day till evening approaches. Then the Rajput woman
puts on her richer dresses and her jewelry and gets ready for dinner
and the night.


The Rajput women of Káthiawád and Cutch deserve some special mention,
both for their beauty and their exceptional cleverness. Beautiful they
are above all other women of India except only in Kashmir, fair with
a rich fresh golden tint of skin, with full soft eyes, and with long
black hair. In their apparel they are particularly tasteful, and the
green hues that they specially affect set off their complexion at its
best under the Indian sky. Of their intelligence there is no doubt, and
throughout the Rajput country they are respected for their talents and
perhaps, shall we add, feared for their intrigue. Jealous and ambitious
to a fault, they are not ignorant even of the use of poison; and at
least it is a proverb that “She marries the land, not the man.” Gallant
and courageous they are, even in evil, and it is not so long ago that
the tale was told of a not-virtuous princess that night after night in
the dark hours saddled a riding camel with her own hands in the stable
and rode six miles out to join a lover, and before dawn, another six
miles back, unseen, unknown, with the threat of a dagger-thrust, if
discovered, always in her mind. But when well-beloved and cherished,
these Rajput women are charming companions and faithful, assiduous

Besides the tribes who can claim to be Rajputs of authentic origin,
descended as was said from the Central Asian invaders who transformed
ancient India to its present type, it follows reasonably enough from
the constitution of the tribal entities and from the eternal facts
of power and sovereignty, that there are many others who put forward
a claim more or less substantiated to a similar recognition. Such are
the slightly later invaders of similar strains who came to India from
Scythia by a different road, the Jhadejas of Cutch and Káthiawád, for
instance, with their frequent marriages with Mussulmans. These have
at least a perfectly legitimate title to the name by a sort of cadet
copyhold. The hill Rajputs of the Himalayas, among whom for generations
survived the last indigenous school of Indian painting, can also fairly
put forward a claim based on historical descent. But in addition,
throughout Northern India, whenever by the fortune of circumstance a
new tribe, not yet included as a caste in the orthodox Hindu system,
has attained to princely power, the claim to true Rajput ancestry,
for a time overlaid and obscured by the dust-layers of adversity, is
propounded and defended. Minstrels in India are no less complacent
than genealogists and heralds in Europe; and a ruling chief can have
a mythical founder of his line disinterred from unknown records as
readily as can a British peer. Instances are many and notorious; but it
would be invidious to retail cases, where very often the tribe or its
ruling family are in every way worthy of inclusion.

[Illustration: MAHRATTI LADY]

Among the Hindu aristocracy not yet fully recognized as Rajput, perhaps
the most notable are the Mahrattas. Cultivators of the arid Deccan
highlands, their swift-raiding horsemen carved out many a principality
in the last three centuries. Several regiments of the Indian army
are recruited from these stern and hardy tribes, and the Mahratta has
fought steadily and well on the Euphrates and the Yser. Among the
ruling chiefs, the generosity, loyalty, and gallantry of H.H. the
Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior, in particular, have now become famous
throughout the world.

Besides the ruling chiefs, the Mahratta tribes have a number of
families of lesser nobility, above the mass of poorer farmers and
peasants. Five of the tribes boast a purer birth and loftier ancestry;
while in all ninety-nine tribes or branches of the race are counted.
But in all tribes, far greater is the distinction between gentle and
simple than among the Rajput clans. The Rajput clans form a real
brotherhood in which, in many senses, each man is as good as another,
wealth and power being accidentals only upon the leading strain. Over
the whole social life is the tradition of the feudal fief and tenure,
where all hold as gentlemen by their soldiers’ service. Among the
Mahrattas there has never been this history of feudal aristocracy.
And even more perhaps, a certain democratic tendency and a certain
proneness to claim “rights” in the true democratic spirit, make it
natural for those who have attained nobility to distinguish themselves
by a haughtier aloofness. In many ways this tendency has affected
the Mahratta woman. It has introduced the _purdah_ or seclusion for
one thing among a people to whom it is not natural, first among the
nobility, and now to a modified degree among the richer or prouder
of the farmer class. Among the mass it hardly exists even in name.
More obvious still is the difference in appearance between the _lady_
and the _woman_. The latter is like the generality of the Deccan
population--one sect of Brahmans alone excepted--dark, stunted,
hardly attractive. The former is fair, graceful, sometimes singularly
charming. Seen at her best (and there are now not a few who in the
disuse of seclusion in the more modern houses may be so seen) she
is intelligent if quiet, winning though a trifle austere, grave and
refined. The Mahratta lady lacks the open, ready smile and frank
feminine fascination of the Rajput, but she has her own severer appeal.
There is something in her always that is virginal. She goes through
life as if unconscious of evil or at least as one deliberately and
finely passing by with eyes unnoticing. Almost she reminds one of the
girl-student resolute upon her way to lectures. Or--shall we say?--in
her is something of the Florentine school, in the Rajput princess the
full rich bloom of Venice.

But in the Peninsula where it narrows to a cape against Ceylon there
still survives an earlier segregated India, untouched, or almost so,
by Scythian immigration. It never knew those tribal communities, now
broken up and regrouped and again assimilated, which left behind as
their living memorial the strenuous organism of the Rajput clans.
In the south, where the green of the rice-fields gleams bright
like emerald, and traffic moves slowly upon great waterways, a
world survives, two thousand years old, fallen perhaps a little to
decrepitude, of indigenous Dravidians--caste-ridden, they, from the
first known times--and rarer immigrant Aryans. And in that world out
of the teeming millions of the Dravidian population, akin perhaps in
remote ages to the inhabitants of the South Seas, the nobility are the
Nairs. Aristocracy they can hardly perhaps be called with propriety,
since they themselves do not claim to rule as being best. Rather they
derive their nobility, by their own showing, from the fact that they
were deemed worthy by the Aryan priests, whom they acknowledge to be
the highest of mankind. The Nairs are a community, rather than a caste
or tribe, with powers of assimilation. A large infusion of Aryan blood,
obtained from the favours of the priesthood whom they venerate, has
given them a peculiar distinction from the Dravidian masses.

In the “Relations of the Most Famous Kingdom in the World,” which was
published in the year of Grace 1611 by Master Johnson, this southern
nobility was abundantly described: “It is strange to see how ready
the souldiour of this country is at his weapons: they are all gentile
men and tearmed Naires. At seven years of age they are put to school
to learn the use of their weapons, where, to make them nimble and
active, their sinews and joints are stretched by skilful fellows and
anointed with the oyle sesamus. By this anointing they become so light
and nimble that they will wind and turn their bodies as if they had
no bones, casting them forward, backward, high and low, even to the
astonishment of the beholders. Their continual delight is in their
weapon, persuading themselves that no nation goeth beyond them in skill
and dexterity.” They are no longer warriors and the only soldiers of
Nair caste are the household brigade maintained by H.H. the Maharaja of
Travancore. But they are still brave, and in their play the sword and
buckler and the bow and arrow keep their place.

Nowadays it is the women who have won the higher fame. Seldom in
any country can there have been a womanhood that has received such
universal eulogy. From the earliest histories of Malabar to the latest
writings of French tourists, the chorus, of praise has been a monody.
Old Duarte Barbosa, writing centuries ago his “Description of the
Coasts of East Africa and Malabar,” already clothed his impression
in admiring words. Most of all he notes that “they are very clean
and well-dressed women and they hold it a great honour to know how
to please men.” This careful cleanliness and a certain grave sort of
neatness are indeed recurrent in every description. The bath is to them
a very article of faith and they bathe not daily but, almost it might
be said, hourly. Beside each house is a large private tank or pond of
masonry with broad stone steps leading to the water, and there are few
moments in the hot daylight hours when it does not resound to a woman’s
laugh. They use the nuts of various saponaceous plants to free hair and
skin from the slightest impurity; and no robe, however slightly soiled,
is ever worn again till it is thoroughly cleaned by the washerwoman.
A scrupulous cleanliness and a fastidious neatness--a total impression
of almost hieratic purity--this exhales from the Nair woman like an
emanation. By their grave simplicity an English official was inspired
to a pretty compliment, as he toiled through some red-tape Census
Report with much talk of “excess of females” in the Nair population.
“They could never be accused,” he reported with mock indignation, “of
an ‘excess of females.’ The most beautiful women in India, if numerous,
could never be excessive.”

[Illustration: NAIR LADY]

The general picture of grave and simple purity is heightened by the
appearance of their houses, each aloof and separate with a certain
quiet dignity in its own grounds. A bathing tank and a garden,
these are the first conditions of every household; and the garden
is luxuriant with the great rough stems of the jack-fruit tree, the
graceful areca and cocoa-nut palms, and bright green, broad-leaved
banana plants. To the east is the gate, through the garden, to the
house, with a stile to cross and a gate-house or lodge at its side.
The house itself, with its large household all related through the
female line, has on the ground floor its kitchen and store-rooms, an
open courtyard, and a large dining-hall. And above, with two separate
staircases, lie on one side the women’s, on the other the apartments
of the men, segregated entirely one from another. In such houses with
all their numerous family-members, brothers and sisters and cousins
and aunts and children always growing up, a certain quiet discipline
and an instinctive order, from being a duty, becomes a constant habit.
Comfort and tranquillity, if they are to be had, exact self-effacing
restraint and gentle deference to others’ wishes and requirements.
Whatever is boisterous and impulsive, the self-assertive and the crude,
has had to be effaced and smoothed away, as pebbles shaken together
in a bag lose their sharp edges. The manners that result are quiet
and self-contained, a little solemn perhaps, as of people traversing
a cathedral, but sweetened by human charity and a pleasant touch of
worldly irony.

The dress is simple in the extreme, a single white cloth that reaches
from the waist to the knee. This for long ages has been the sole
honoured dress of the Nair lady, above all fear as she is and above
reproach. That in all public places she should go boldly and unashamed,
with no self-conscious daring, but simply and modestly, with the
upper part of her body uncovered before all men, has been the law of
her community. Only jewelry she wears, a gold or silver chain, even
a gold belt about her waist, gold bosses in her ears, and a necklace
whose pendants are as the cobra’s hood upon her neck. Sometimes,
however, especially in these later days, and when she travels to other
provinces, she throws a cloth over her shoulders and bosom, with a
certain shyness, as of something coquettish and immodest.

Amusements too are simple, but to their thinking plentiful and quietly
enjoyable. All girls are taught to read and write, and not a few are
highly educated. They are in general on the happiest terms with their
husbands, whom they do not see too much and whose affections are not
blunted by the daily usage of a common household and the dulling
minutiae of daily life. When, however, there is incompatibility, they
separate simply and naturally without unkindness to seek a better loved
mate. In leisure hours, swinging, two or three merry girls on the same
swing, is a favourite amusement, and singing and dancing are often
enjoyed, especially at the great autumn festival when the house is
filled with presents and each one gives every one else a yellow cloth
or a toy or an ornament. Prettiest of all their amusements, however,
and most symbolic of all that quiet, so sweetly singular life on the
backwaters of the south, is that of flower-decoration. In the early
morning the children of the large household go into the fields to
gather flowers and bring them back in armfuls. Then all sit down in
the courtyard, and with their gathered blossoms make bright decorative
patterns on the walls and floor. Best loved of all is a flower-carpet
over which they raise a booth, gaily festooned with other flowers. When
all is complete, the neighbours are asked to come in and admire; and
they compare it with their own in turn. But the finest flowers of all
are the sweet gravely tender women of Malabar.

When he turns to the Mussulman aristocracy of India, the European
finds himself on ground more familiar, as it is more similar to the
landscape of his own social existence. These chiefs and nobles are the
descendants--in most part--of soldier adventurers who, as generals or
as governors under the Emperors of Delhi, or as rebels and fighters
for their own hand, achieved estates and even principalities. They
have no caste or tribe to distinguish them from their fellows, but owe
their position to their authority and landed interest. As sons of Adam,
they hold, all men are in essence equal, but Destiny has apportioned
sovereignty to one and to another beggary. They rise and fall, as in
Europe, too, heritages are wasted and fortunes won; and they rely upon
no mystic ordinance and no hieratic ceremonial for their prestige. The
frank acceptance of the world as it is, _facts_ alone one would say
having importance, makes the Mussulman gentleman and his family appear
figures fully human and comprehensible. Polygamy and the seclusion of
women alone cause disparities, superficial even these in many respects.


The permission to marry up to four wives is in practice seldom
utilized. The commandment to treat all wives alike, with equal favour
and cherishing, in itself makes righteous polygamy by no means easy.
But a more actual obstacle is the natural jealousy of the woman and
her great influence. There are few Mussulman ladies whose husbands are
not just the least thing “henpecked.” And few of them will allow a
rival to enter the zanána without a struggle. Only in a few of the most
powerful courts is it prevalent to any conspicuous degree; and in such
royal households where it exists, it flies often in the face of Holy
Scripture no less than human sense and comfort. It is then a vice and
not an observance. Seclusion--the “purdah”--exists with a severity far
exceeding modern Turkey or even Egypt, and still more in excess of the
Prophet’s teaching; but it falls short of the unreasoning stringency
of the Rajput code. It is relaxed for one thing by the recognition in
each case of certain persons who stand “within the enclosure,” as it
is called, or in other words are free to meet the women of the house
unveiled. In this circle are included a large number of male relatives
and even, in a few cases, the husband’s most intimate friends, as well
as servants brought up from childhood within the family. Moreover, the
restriction becomes less oppressive when it is relieved by the wide
freedom to visit women-friends which is generally sanctioned. Veiled
though they drive through the streets and unseen, there are few things
which are not noted by the keen eyes behind the peep-holes in the
shrouding cloak.

The Mussulman girl of the better class is in early childhood taught
to recite prayers and to read the Qor’an in Arabic, though without
understanding of the words she reads. As she grows older she is
usually taught more, and attains a fair knowledge of Urdu, while, if
she shows signs of greater capacity, she will often learn Persian as
well. To read simple books in Urdu and Persian is at least a common
accomplishment, and there are not a few who can themselves read or, at
least, understand the elegant odes of Hafiz. In household management
and the care of her children the Mussulman lady is able to find
incessant occupation, while there is no one who more appreciates the
pleasures of a garden with runnels of flowing water under a tropic
sky. She rises very early, and shortly after dawn she is to be found
among the roses in the walled garden. Chess and backgammon are frequent
amusements. In talismans, omens, charms and the evil eye she has
an unshakable belief, which survives every trial. And in her later
years she looks forward to the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca, with all
its difficulties and hardships, as the last and best employment of
a well-spent life. Something there is truly noble in that figure of
an old lady, veiled in white, facing, after a long life behind the
curtain, the crowded port, the steamer, and the desert Bedouins. But
sweetest picture of all in the womanhood of the Mussulman nobility is
the growing girl, not yet a woman, in coloured silk trousers, long
robe, or shirt of fine Dacca muslin, and velvet cap gold-embroidered,
as she sits cross-legged beneath a shady tree and recites aloud
from the silk-covered Qor’an that is open before her on its carved
sandalwood rest.

The Middle Classes

  “Things never changed since the time of the Gods,
  The flowing of water, the way of love.”

                    _Japanese Song._ LAFCADIO HEARN.

[Illustration: FROM BURMAH]

Chapter V


In a vast empire with a population of over three hundred millions, in
area a continent, with some thirty-five main languages and of dialects
none can say how many, with different religions and with cultures
divided from each other by centuries of progress, anything like an
adequate description of the middle-class woman would be a task beyond
human power, and its perusal beyond the patience of the most enduring
reader. Less difficult by far would it be to head a chapter “The middle
classes of Europe,” and, within its limits, after running from Greece
and Roumania to Spain and England, to scale the heights upon which,
like an inspiration, the womanhood of France sits enthroned. But there
are at least some essentials in which the womanhood of the Indian
middle classes becomes congruous, differing therein from the women of
other countries, Europe for instance, or America or China. Perhaps it
may be tried by the selection of a few types, with the aid of contrast
and analysis, in some way to express their essential atmosphere and

Burmah must, one finds, go to the wall, not most certainly for any
fault of its own but because it lies so far apart from the total of
Indian life. For administration it is placed within the confines of
the Indian Empire, but with the Indian peoples its people has no lot
or part. To omit it seems almost a pity, so frankly independent are
its women and so fascinating--free above the women of most nations and
consonant to an unusual degree with ultimate human ideals. One sees
such a little Burmese lady sometimes, but how rarely, in India, the
wife perhaps of some English officer or of a high Burmese councillor,
so a picture may stand as reminder of smiling daintiness, like some
porcelain figurine glazed and tinted in the furnace of human freedom.

In India proper, of the middle classes, the most important, and perhaps
the most enigmatic, figure is the Brahman’s. The class is certainly an
aristocracy in one, the etymological, sense. For it is as being best
that they hold power and the power that they hold is, even to this
day, most undeniable. Aristocracy--“rule of the best”--of those rather
who are admitted to be best--if this be indeed a meaning true to fact,
then the Brahmans should be included in or alone comprise that rank.
With many of them their very appearance, their gait and self-composure,
support the role. With steady untroubled eye, straight nose and
sensitive nostril, fair skin, “pride in their port” and self-restraint
in every gesture, they move through the mass of common men, as if
conscious of a higher mission. By the sacred thread across the shoulder
they proclaim themselves twice-born, once from a mortal womb and once
again at an auspicious hour in childhood by initiation to the sacred
mysteries. Calm and indifferent, serene with a careful precision
and habit of restraint, they incarnate in their manner something of
absolute repose, as if untouched by the mundane ebb and flow. Withal
they are not in any customary sense a nobility. Perhaps, it may be
said, they have transcended even nobility. In any case the proudest
noble must at times, and some must constantly, admit the ascendancy,
spiritual though it be, of these born preceptors. The greatest ruler
will eat food cooked by the poorest Brahman beggar; but no Brahman,
desperate with the pangs of destitution, would accept even a glass of
water from a monarch’s jug, the mere touch being a profanation to the
nutriment of sanctity. In Southern India, where the Brahman, immigrant
from Aryan races, was most successful in exploiting the indigenous
population by the means of religious awe, the Nair nobility are abject
in their recognition of this hierarchic superiority. In every word of
speech the Nair throws himself, as a clod of mud, before the Brahman’s
feet to be trampled and contemned. His house becomes, in speaking to
a Brahman, his poor dunghill and the Brahman’s house his palace; his
teeth are dirty in his speech, and the Brahman’s pearls; his sleep is a
mere falling into snores, and the Brahman’s an honourable slumber.

But in ordinary speech, in Europe and no less in India, the concept
of nobility or aristocracy in its worldly relations implies other
qualities. A certain tinge of feudal tradition colours our thought;
and a nobleman is always conceived primarily as a fighter and a leader
of his own men in his own estate. Love of sport, a certain careless
gaiety, an eupeptic cheerfulness and a happy enjoyment, face to
face with a world in which nothing really matters, coupled with the
readiness to do the duties of his station and to die for honour, these
are qualities that make up the mental picture.

It is not to such a class that the Brahman belongs. To life and the
pleasures of life, he stands as a pillar of negation. Not here and
now one conceives him beckoning, but in a reality transcending all
appearance in duty and existence. Privation is for him the highest rule
and participation in the world is at most an inexorable concession to
accidental forces. The Brahman’s life must, in semblance at least, be
one of constant abstention, rigidly guarded. The show of enjoyment and
the joy of healthy natural life must be repressed or at least veiled
discreetly. Between him and mere sensual humanity he has dug a gulf,

[Illustration: LADY FROM MYSORE]

Of Brahmans only a few are by ordination priests. The majority fill the
professional classes, as administrators, clerks, astrologers, scholars,
physicians, lawyers, and the like. Some are money-lenders and not a
few are cultivators of the soil. There are even rare Brahman houses
which, in spite of religious prohibition, have usurped the thrones
of princes. But in all there exists not only a sense of solidarity
as being sanctified, but also this ideal of abstention, leading in
practice not unseldom to a grave and measured hypocrisy. As a whole
they are the professional class of India, they and the rival caste,
the Kayasthas or “scribes,” and maintain with admirable earnestness
the tastes and pursuits of an intellectual, idealizing, and temperate
order. Mental discipline, the suppression of the impulsive act, a habit
of restriction so incessant as to become almost instinctive, these they
have to a degree almost overwhelming.

Among Rajput women one finds certainly the highest development of the
individual with the greatest charm and the fullest humanity, and it is
they, almost alone, who have achieved the heroic. But to India as a
whole the ordinary ideal of woman in her relation to social function is
represented by the more reticent figure of the Brahman. She is woman as
in his life the ordinary man would wish to find her, quiet, devoted,
managing and pious.

Nowhere is the Brahman woman so true to the type presented in this
ideal as in the Madras Presidency and in the Bombay Deccan. And never
is she so true to herself as when she goes, sedately, to the temple.
In her hand she carries the brass tray on which she has put her humble
offerings of ochre powder and flowers with a wick burning beside
them; and she goes looking neither to the right nor to the left. She
rings the bell which summons the God’s attention to his worshipper
and walks the prescribed ceremonial steps round the idol with a grave
unquestioning dignity. And her whole life is one unceasing round of
service, in which humility is elevated by an ever-present sense of
Divine ordinance. To the lowly in heart she feels--almost one might say
she knows, so strongly does she feel--belongs the kingdom of heaven.
In service to find fulfilment, even happiness, that is her God-given
mission. She grinds corn and cooks, carries water and washes the
house, nurses her children, waits upon her family, as also she draws
ornamental patterns with white and red chalks upon her door-step, all
with a humble pride and joy in the singleness of her devotion. In
poorer houses, in the houses of far the greater number of her class,
she is at work all day from long before the first-dawning till at last
at night she falls into the deep slumbers of exhaustion. There are few
who keep servants, except for an occasional old woman who comes to help
with the rougher tasks. And in addition to the household labour, she
is forced, too early, to premature childbirth, and protracted nursing.
For charm and coquetry, for all the arts by which woman gladdens life
and creates a liberal society, she has, if she had the inclination, no
spare time or energy. She ages early, spent by exhausting labour and
the recurring burden of unregulated childbirth, unwarmed by joy, unlit
by passion.


But the bare life of poverty and unending labour is illumined by a
spiritual exaltation. With the performance of their service the million
Saint Theresas of the Deccan are able to find within their hearts a
satisfying happiness. Like nuns, by an austere self-repression, they
avert their eyes from humanity and the human purposes of life; and when
they are forced to see, they persuade themselves to despise. They live
as it were in a spiritual cloister. But even in this world they are not
altogether without reward, though it comes late in life. The love and
devoted kindness of her sons, that is the one constant meed of service
upon which the woman counts. And there are few things more impressive
than an Indian son’s look when he turns to his mother or the tone in
which, even years after her death, he speaks of his childhood at her
side. And in old age when she in turn, with her husband, succeeds
to the management of the large joint family household, she finds a
peaceful joy in the ordering of their simple life and the caresses of
her clustering grandchildren. At the end, when death lays her to sleep
at last, she dies in the hope of an untroubled peace, as one who has
accomplished a lengthy service not without pain and effort.

Such perhaps most truly are the women of India, as through a large
continent the greatest number of its inhabitants would like to see
them. Not for this world, they might say, is the labour; not for love
and enjoyment and greater power and finer emotions and self-development
and the glories of nature do they thirst. Of the fervours of youth and
the vivid joys of mere active BEING, of the fine harmonies between soul
and sense in expanding, self-perfecting human functions, of a humanity
that should be self-sufficient, free in the face of the eternal
universe and glad in the fight for mastery with obstructive matter,
they have not even a conception. To an Indian Antigone no chorus would
sing of human power and magnitude. Only the preacher would instruct in
humility and abnegation.

Even the richest Brahman women of the South spend their leisure hours
in a manner that accords with the common ideal. Relieved of the more
exhausting house-work by the labour of the servants, they spend the
afternoon hours when they are at rest in the reading of the Purans,
those grosser Scriptures or, one might perhaps with truer comparison
say, those Hagiologies in which priests have deformed the too subtle
tenets of Hindu theosophy with the flesh of mythology. In the reciting
of these legends, and in lengthy prayers and ritual performance the
wealthy Brahman lady is content to find the entertainment of her

The same ideal of service and privation is to be found no less in
Bengal, sweetened however and softened like the more languid air.
There is something hard, even cruel perhaps, in the arid Deccan
plain with its burning dry winds and its stony hill-sides, and its
stern, thrifty, self-centred people. Its asceticism is harsh and
rough, the sour ferment as it were of crude souls in fear of a fierce
Deity, looking by abnegation to secure the grace that alone can give
salvation. The spirit is that, almost, of a Hindu Calvinism, savagely
abnegatory. A softer piety, as of some Italian nunnery among roses and
olive trees over the blue sea, inspires the womanhood of Bengal. They
have a devotion no less intense, their service and self-sacrifice is
no smaller; but they are filled also with the pity that assuages and
the love that makes things sweet. To be kind and tender in a world
which, with all its evil and pain, is pervaded by a loving and merciful
Providence, such is the spirit in which they render service. The large
houses of Bengal, embowered in trees, have a claustral peace as well as
labour. The lives of the women in them are coloured by the tender light
of pity and affection. Often in the warm nights under the star-strewn
sky, young girls creep to each other and whisper little gaieties.

[Illustration: BENGALI LADY]

In general, among the middle classes of Bengal, women practise a
seclusion that is, however, not too rigid. It is a seclusion like
that of classic Athens, not savagely jealous as it still is in many
Rajput houses. But with the renaissance that in the last fifty years
has so greatly altered life in this great province, many have learnt
to discard orthodoxy and with it the traditional restrictions. At
Benares, especially, many a Bengali lady can be seen walking openly to
the temples and the sacred river. Always she bears a perfect courtesy
and a rounded balanced dignity. Of the newer school, too many perhaps
have aspirations gleaned from the lighter English novels which they
eagerly read--dreams for whose passage the ivory gates of Hinduism
were never meant to open. But deep in the hearts of all--far deeper
than such fashions--are the images of Sita and Sakuntala. Some play
tennis and ride, some there are who return from English schools and the
smarter section of London society with the gossip of Ranelagh or the
bridge club and a wider taste for amusement. But there are none who
discard the tenderness and soft devotion of their native womanhood.
Nowhere in India have there been so many marriages between English
and Indian; nowhere have they been more successful. The number of
women really educated, appreciative of art and literature, a few even
themselves poets and writers, is out of all comparison large; and the
artistic rebirth in Bengal must to some extent have been shaped by the
influence of women’s grace on the social world. Without departing from
the prescribed fields of service and abnegation, they take their part
in every important movement--sometimes perhaps unwisely! But at times
they have brought untold benefit by their acts. So a few years ago did
the brave girl who by the sacrifice of her own life slew a great social
evil--the purchase of men at the price of ruinous dowries. It must
at least be conceded that the women of Bengal, descendant from mixed
races but long since truly Indian, have clothed the sacerdotal ideal in
vestment of soft and womanly grace. But there are other parts of India
where even the Brahman woman has diverged from this ideal, or--should
one not rather say?--has transfused into it the feelings and robust
sensuality of a more vigorous nature. Where the late conquerors from
the North have settled, where rich plains bear wheat and millet, and
fields are hedged with the milk-bush and the cactus, where the great
trees make the country seem like an English park, and the air bites
cold in the winter mornings when a skin of ice crackles on road-side
pools, where in the hot months the sun hangs like a disc of brass
over the panting earth, there the pulse beats stronger and a larger
nature sways the will. Women there have their claims as well as duties;
and from life they demand, besides the right to serve, a broader power
also and a rich fulfilment. They wish for love and to be loved, and
even in their service they aspire to govern. For their womanhood they
claim at least some freedom. The texts are still the same; but they are
commented by a bolder temperament. The distinction holds good perhaps
for all the women of real Hindustan--for the lusty graceful women of
Allahabad, for instance, and the upper Ganges Valley.

[Illustration: A NÁGAR BEAUTY]

But nowhere can this fine and active type be better studied than in
the Nágar caste of Káthiawád and Gujarát. The Nágar community came
to India with the last Scythian hordes; and almost at once, at the
great fire baptism of Ajmer, attained the rank of Brahmans. To this
day, so high do they hold themselves above all others, they hardly
trouble to use the title Brahman, but call themselves merely Nágar,
with a proud simplicity, as who would say, “I am the Prince.” For
centuries they have held the appointments of the State and been famous
as administrators. They are to be found in every rank and in every
department of the public services, clever, courteous, receptive, and
self-confident. Their pride has become a byword among other castes; and
their success has made them the mark of envy and dislike. But there
can be no question of the ability with which they have held their
position, nor of the keen, progressive intellect that guides their
interests and activities. They have an eager humanity, and a keen
understanding of worldly good and evil, and are above the hypocritical
renunciations and pessimistic sanctity of a priestly class. Literature
they hold in honour; and the creative instinct, which leads many of
them to administration as the career in which man expresses his active
will through the minds and morals of mankind, forces others of their
community to self-expression in thought and language. If renunciation
there be, it is here, not for a mere negation, in itself fruitless;
but to the end of a greater realization in the material given by
humanity. In this dynamic will, the women have a proportional share.
Ambitious and intellectual, they partake in the interests of their
families and encourage or advise their husbands and their children.
For the achievement of purpose they are ready for every sacrifice; but
the consciousness of larger interests ennobles the sacrifice as it
humanizes the purpose. They too serve, as every Hindu woman seeks to
serve, and the Nágar wife, like her sisters, will cook and wash and
stand aside before her man and wait upon his meals. But her devotion
is shaped by a less trammelled intellect, and she claims in return an
immediate recompense of love and attention.

Very beautiful are the Nágar women, and their beauty is the theme of
countless songs and ballads. Fair with a rich golden vivid fairness,
like the colour of ripe wheat, with dark eyes in whose depth glows
a spark of passion and round which humour and laughter play, with
full petulant lips, figures finely rounded and firmly plump like
the quail, with, graceful movement and slender limb, the whole lit
up by intelligence and comprehension and a touch of conscious charm,
the Nágar woman presents a picture that remains unforgotten. Even
laborious study seems to have no power to rob her of her looks, and
the girl-graduate is fresh and graceful, as if she had never bent over
Euclid or deductive logic. One meets them so at times in Ahmedabad or
Baroda, in the houses of the highest officials, clever, well-read,
well-bred, with perfect manners and astounding beauty, like some memory
of the Italian Renaissance, taking no small part in the establishment
of an urbane and liberal society, and like the _donne_ of Boccacio they
return to their homes to serve and cherish their husbands. And of love
they can repeat the whole gamut. Indeed, the keynotes of this society,
with all its undertones of Hindu abnegation--as in Florence, too,
one imagines an undercurrent, not too discordant, from Savonarola’s
denunciations--are not unlike Italy in the great age. Women have
similar duties with a touch of the same implied seclusion; they have
the same intrigues and stolen pleasures, the same essentially natural
poise in life; they are now even beginning a similar application
to learning and poetry. And of love too they have no lesser lore
and experience than those ladies who, finely natural and fittingly
acquiescent in their sex, gladdened and made illustrious the Courts of
Mantua and Ferrara.

Even more beautiful than the women in the Nágar caste are their
charming and delightful children. With the round oval of their faces,
the fair bloom of their skins, the growing intelligence that dances
in their eyes, they at once captivate all who look. In general up to
the age of eight or ten they remain naked (though an unfortunate new
fashion, imitated from customs made necessary by the cold grey skies
of England, tends to hamper their free beauty in ugly and unwholesome
clothes), and the light movement of frail gold-browned limbs in the
Indian air is sheer refreshment to the eye. Devotion, then, the Nágar
woman certainly stands for, devotion and the due and harmonious
fulfilment of the duties of her station. A woman she is always, fully
and truly womanly. But she is far above the mere privative of empty
abnegation. Beauty she knows and values, and she is not ignorant or
afraid of the power that kindly beauty can exercise in the affairs of
men. Learning she can recognize and honour; literature she assists;
even of art, she is not, like her sisters, much afraid. In Gujarát from
of old the dainty custom has remained by which on certain festivals,
the feast of lamps for instance, ladies of the highest classes meet in
the open streets of the residential quarters and chant choral songs
while they move round in a circle, beating time with their hands and
bending gracefully up and down. They sing of spring and flowers and the
sports of girl-friends in palace-gardens. But in the large industrial
cities which in the last generation have risen upon the older towns
with their restricted social circles, the publicity of the streets has
become inconvenient. The Nágar ladies in Ahmedabad, for instance, have
taken a leading part in transferring the old songs to larger concert
halls in clubs and similar places, and at the same time raising the
standard and artistic value of the performance. Those who have ever
heard such a concert must be grateful for a movement full at the same
time of beauty and colour and sweet sound along with modesty and
perfect taste. For a higher social life, with heightened enjoyments and
a rational freedom, for self-development and wider interests, yet well
within the limits that nature prescribes for woman, distinct from the
far other limits set to man by his divergent functions, for a life that
has in it something of Greece as well as the main ideals of Hinduism,
the Nágar woman, for all the illiberal asceticism of the Brahman
tradition, may emphatically stand.

In the mercantile classes the same ideals persist, deflected however by
the incidents of their livelihood and to an even greater extent by a
profound difference in spiritual aspect. Of the Hindu trading classes
by far the most important and the most ubiquitous are the merchants
of Márwár, of Gujarát, and of Cutch. All follow one of two sects, the
Vaishnava or the Jain--the latter in essence a different religion,
originally indeed a protest against Hinduism but now little more than
a sect, another ripple, so to say, on the waters of national faith.
Both at any rate are protests against Brahman orthodoxy and the gnostic
philosophies of essential Hinduism. Numerically and in its effects, by
far the more important is Vaishnavism. In the form in which it has
been adopted by the trading classes, it is the belief that by love
alone can God be realized. It centres upon Krishna, that tender and
sportive figure, in whom the God Vishnu again came to earthly life,
and in whom are enshrined the memories of a once-living hero. On Him
mythology and popular song have lavished their softest endearments
and their most entrancing images. In His name have been composed the
voluptuous love-poems of many generations; and the dalliances of
Krishna with the milk-maids and His beloved Rádha are the constant
theme to which Indian passion turns for lyrical expression. They are
the familiar accompaniment in childhood as in age of the merchant’s
women-folk. In Vaishnavism such as this the devotee throws himself, as
a suppliant, on God’s grace and love alone. He acknowledges indeed his
innate incapacity to apprehend the Godhead, but he aspires at least
to feel something of His Glory in those ecstasies of self-abandonment
which can be likened on this earth only to the passionate love of
man and woman. In their prayers too they associate with the God that
consort Lakshmi or Rukhmini, who gives wealth and prosperity--the
benign divinity who with her lord preserves and maintains all living
things and in loving-kindness intercedes for all who seek by love
and submission to realize the Divine in the universe, be their sins
manifold as the sands upon the shore.

In every land, of course, the pursuit of wealth as such must be
opposed to higher spiritual activities and loftier aspirations. For
the merchant the end must be the acquisition of riches for its own
sake. All other purposes are either means or incidents. He must treat
men and women as means and not as ends in themselves. He can have
for humanity none of that respect which is felt by him who, as equal
among equals, seeks as his end human perfection, or even by him who,
again one of many equals, works, as he thinks, by pain and self-denial
for the greater glory of God. Where acquisition is the supreme good,
all else must be subordinate. And the methods of acquisition are
really two-fold, either by careful saving and the starving of desire
to accumulate useless metal tokens which are the equivalents of
untasted pleasures, or by wilder speculation quickly to capture the
wealth which, exchanged, can buy luxury and material gratification.
Side by side, in the same class of men, the two methods can be seen.
Extravagant abstention and extravagant lavishness, a fulfilment that
is material or an abstention that is no less material, these in
all countries are the marks of the merchant class. But they can be
mitigated in their effect, as they were in the Italian Renaissance by
the almost superstitious devotion of all ranks to the newly-exhumed
classic ideal. In India this mitigation is given by the creed of
Krishna and of love. Materialized though it has to be when refracted
through the mind of man the acquisitive, it is still an influence,
nicely attuned to the receiver, for something finer and ennobling. What
there is of good, charity and spiritual significance in the merchant’s
life (and it is after all much) is mainly drawn from a faith which,
even when interpreted in a too material sense, could hardly be replaced
for its worshippers by any other _credo_. In modern Europe the
aristocratic ideal has for the richer merchant something of the same
significance and mitigating value. But for those outside the circle in
which this ideal can be operative there is no other thought to raise
and enlarge the spirit.

It is not difficult to see how all these influences must react upon
the woman’s life. The effects are further complicated by the fact
that child-marriages are still the rule, and that only too often, in
a trading class, the young bride is sold by her parents for large
sums to an aged bridegroom. Among the larger number of the class,
probably, acquisition is sought by rigid economy. The young wife finds
herself stinted, therefore, of every comfort and even of the dresses
and ornaments that by nature every woman desires. The husband holds
the purse and makes almost all purchases himself. A few rupees only
can reach the wife, and for these she has to account. Even if her
husband is young, long hours in the shop, constant poring over account
books, and little exercise only too soon make him obese and feeble.
The only real interests are house-work, in which she has no final
voice, and frequent, often ill-natured, gossip. On the other hand, she
has this of advantage that her menfolk, weighing the world as they
do by its material fruits, ascribe to women the first place in their
pleasures. She is, therefore, in spite of all, able sometimes to
attain a real power that is discordant with her ostensible position.
The passion is for the sex in general, not for the individual woman;
for a mere satisfaction of sense, not for a spiritual individualized
love of the fitting mate. But a shrewd woman can play upon the passion
and make it serve her own purposes. And when the trader’s wife does
manage to attain such influence, she uses it unsparingly for her own
satisfaction. Many a comedy of manners is played, unseen, on the dark
stage of the merchant’s house. There are not a few husbands who,
whether from love of gain or from sheer terror of their wives, shut
their eyes complaisantly to divagations damaging to their honour. The
practice common to many money-lenders of keeping burly Mussulman, often
Afghan, servants in their households, is anything except an incentive
to female virtue.

[Illustration: JAIN NUN]

Among the merchants who follow the Jain religion, however, these
conditions apply with less force. Their life is simpler and the
imagination is unheated by the constant thought of loving ecstasy.
The Jain _sadhvis_, a class of nuns recruited both from the unmarried
and the widowed, bear a character that is far above reproach. With
shaven heads and in yellow garments, a little square of cloth usually
tied upon their lips to save them from inhaling the smallest insect,
they wander through the country, begging and singing hymns, nowhere to
remain above four days, leading a life of austerity for the glory of
the spirit. They are irreproachable like Sisters of Mercy, and like
Sisters of Mercy they can move safely among the roughest crowds,
protected by the respect of all. Something of their simple and humble
piety has penetrated to all ranks among the Jains; and the ladies of
the Jain millionaires of Ahmedabad, owners of large cotton factories
and masters of men and money, live their simple lives in the midst of
riches with purity and quiet modesty.

Amongst the richest of the merchant class are the Bhatias, who
gain rather by daring speculation than by niggardly effort. On the
race-course, as in the exchange and cotton market, they are conspicuous
figures, with a certain pleasing _bonhomie_ and easy good-fellowship.
The Bhatia women play a part in the social life of modern India that
is hardly less conspicuous. Orthodox in the extreme, they are strict
followers not of the ascetic but of the more human sect. They are
able, therefore, to be strict in observance and orthodox in belief
without abdicating the rights and enjoyments of humanity. They attend
diligently to religious services and in the early hours of the
morning the ways that lead to the Krishna temple are thronged with
their carriages. To the High-priests, in whom they see the divinity
incarnate, they give an adoration that is almost boundless. But, with
all this, they claim from life the fulfilment of their humanity and
their womanhood. Moreover, they demand something of excitement and
palpitant emotion. A few there are who, like their menfolk, gamble, and
there is none who will deny herself the excitement of jewelry and fine
clothes, diaphanous fabrics half disclosing the limbs they cover. The
worst offshoot of their orthodoxy is the practice of infant marriage;
and there are few sections of the community in which young girls are
so often married to old men, the parents profiting by the bride-price.
As the remarriage of widows is forbidden, it follows necessarily that
in the Bhatia caste there is a number, quite excessive, of young
widows, in the first bloom of fresh maturity, often left with great
fortunes. Fortunately for society, these widows, so numerous are they
and the conditions of their marriage so manifestly unfair, have been
able collectively to repudiate the hardships that enmesh the orthodox
Brahman who has lost her husband. Among the Bhatias, there are few
shaven heads! Neat and well dressed, with pleasing face and figure,
perhaps too consciously demure, they strike an attractive note in the
complex harmonies of modern India. The system by which they are married
is hardly elevating and is opposed not only to the ideals but also to
the commandments of the sacred texts; but a commercial class cannot
get away from its own limitations. It is at least a great deal gained
that it should be alleviated by a sensible appreciation of life and joy
and by a degree of freedom which, though not of the highest and inmost
kind, is more humanizing and liberal than the negatives of material
self-denial. Self-control, control, that is, of and by the inner self
in harmony with ultimate nature, is no doubt the concomitant of the
highest liberty; but any liberty, even any licence, is better than the
denial of the actual living self.

[Illustration: BHATIA LADY]

In the rich province of Gujarát, the home of so large a proportion
of the merchants of India, there is a festival which embodies in its
observance much of the inner feeling of the Indian woman. During the
rains, for one waxing moon, the days are sacred to that Goddess, who
represents the all-pervading energy of nature, the spouse of Shiva,
the Great God, the ultimate Destroyer. During these days the maidens
of middle-class Gujarát worship the Goddess with an eye fixed upon the
attainment of the perfect husband. The little girls go in groups and
bathe and pray, and they make the vow that is the Vow of Life. They may
be as young as six or seven or eight, but year after year they renew
the vow till they are married. Throughout the day they have to sit in
a darkened room, reflecting upon the Goddess and upon the supreme boon
of a good husband, but at times resting their minds by nursery tales
or songs or innocent games with cards and dice. Then every morning
they bathe again in the pond or river, where rival groups of girls
make jokes upon each other and laugh and play. The many songs are the
most touching part of the whole festival. And these songs represent a
marriage of free choice, in which the girl chooses a husband from her
suitors. How different from the present practice! Year after year,
till they are married, they sing these songs. And who shall say how
far this dream of choice may remain to mould their actions, even after
the forced marriage that awaits them? The need of marriage at least,
its supreme value to a woman’s life, that is always before their eyes
from early childhood; and marriage is bound up with religion, with
the personal gifts of the divine and happy wife of the Greatest God.
But in the very songs, sanctioned by the goddess, the cry is always
for the chosen mate, the giver of love and happiness. Little wonder
if at times the grown girl, now become conscious, learns to know the
difference between the husband selected under social conventions by
her parents for his worldly circumstance and the man who, unsuitable
perhaps in wealth or temperament, is yet nature-chosen to be the mate
of her desires and the beloved of her heart. For the parents’ choice is
not always wise, and among sinful mankind there are not a few who will
sacrifice a daughter’s welfare to their own profit.

[Illustration: KHOJA LADY IN BOMBAY]

Of the Mussulman middle classes, the most conspicuous are the Bohras
and the Khojas. Both belong to different branches of the Shiah
sect, that sect which is to Islam what the Catholic Church is to
Christianity. Both also are the descendants of Hindu communities which
were converted in fairly recent times to the faith of salvation. Among
the Khojas, especially, many Hindu customs have survived, and their
law of succession in particular is not the law of the Qor’an but the
survival of Hindu tribal custom. At this moment, perhaps, theirs is
the most interesting of these communities, both because by their
practical talents they have obtained a place of political leading among
Indian Mussulmans and because they are--with the exception of a small
reforming branch--the religious followers of H.H. the Agha Khan, a
prince so nobly known by his loyal efforts in the War.

The Khojas, “honourable gentlemen” as the name means, come in the main
from Gujarát and Bombay. But they are scattered now through all the
bigger trade centres of India--Calcutta, Nagpur, Sind and the Punjáb.
They have not, however, confined their enterprise to the Indian Empire,
but have made settlements in the East wherever the British flag gives
its subjects protection. They have crossed the mountain passes to Hanza
and Dardistan; they have sailed to Zanzibar and the Persian Gulf;
they have penetrated into Arabia; they maintain business connections
with Singapore, China and Japan, and even with England, America and
Australia. Many of the great commercial interests of India are in their
hands, and in business they bear an excellent reputation for integrity
and punctuality. Their representatives have an important place in the
Legislative Councils of Bombay and of the Government of India. In
social life, they are something of epicures, and their clubs are not
only hospitable but are well-managed and furnished. The best of food
and the best of wine will always be found at any entertainment given by
these generous and liberal merchants. They enjoy literature and still
more music and dancing; and they are among the most tasteful supporters
of those arts. Many among them have now forsaken commerce for the
liberal professions.

The Khoja woman is hidden in seclusion behind the _purdah_. The few
that are to be seen are as a rule somewhat below the middle height and
are of a graceful, but not altogether healthy, slightness. They are
well educated and are good housekeepers, known for their neatness and
management. As Mussulmans they are of course married under a system of
free contract, but unfortunately for them Hindu tradition has been too
strong, and they suffer in practice from many of the disabilities of
their Hindu sisters. Remarriage after widowhood is in practice almost
unknown; and divorce is so discountenanced that its relief is seldom
sought. On the other hand, the ascetic idea is at least absent, and a
wife expects and a husband is prepared to give constant attention and
all possible comfort. They have a force of character which merits this
attention; and their features, with arched head and broad forehead,
strong chin, and large lustrous eyes, are the index of their character.

Of other trading classes of Mussulmans, the Memans, also converts from
Hindu castes in Sind, Káthiawád and Cutch, deserve notice, if only for
their charity and piety. All Memans, women as well as men, hope to
perform the pilgrimage to Mecca and habitually visit the Chisti Shrine
at Ajmer. And for their large secret charities the women, no less than
the men, have a well-deserved reputation.

Among the large body of middle-class Mussulmans of the usual Sunni
sects, those who claim to be descended from foreign invaders and
who are at least not directly traceable to any special wholesale
conversion, the position of women is on the whole satisfactory and
agreeable. Every family has its poor relations and dependants so
that, even when she is childless, the mistress of the house is seldom
lonely. The morning she spends at her toilet and in seeing to the
day’s marketings and looking to the kitchen. At meals all the family,
men and women alike, meet and eat together. Sometimes, even, a
much-favoured friend of the husband’s, a trusted and intimate friend,
may be introduced to the inner, unveiled circle. After the midday meal,
a rest; then sewing and talking; then games of backgammon and chess
make the afternoon pass. The evening dinner then needs looking to,
and after dinner it is common to hear or read tales and romances or
religious books. Children may also take up much of the woman’s time;
and among Mussulmans as a rule the wife may count upon a loving, almost
a passionate, husband, except in the unhappy cases where differences of
temperament produce a real antipathy. In that case she can always try
to force a divorce from his hands, though the practice varies with the
social circle. That the pressure of Indian influences has forced upon
them child-marriage, followed only too often by premature consummation;
that the intentions of the Prophet in regard to divorce and widowhood
have often been neglected; and that the rule of veiling has been
interpreted with a superstitious irrationalism, quite opposed to the
teachings of the law, are disabilities under which the Mussulman
woman of the middle classes still has in part to suffer. But she is at
least oppressed by no tradition of renunciation or asceticism, and she
has, in favour of her fulfilment and just cherishing, text after text
in the sacred Book. The recent tendency to a purer Islamic practice,
hand in hand with the growth of rationalism, offer her hope of early
liberation from extraneous bonds and of development as a free human
agent. The women of Islam have as guide rules of law, sanctioned by
revelation, which if practised are more rational and more insistent on
justice and human freedom than any other precepts ever codified into
statutes. It is to be hoped that the recent advance and rationalistic
movement in Islamic countries will secure the happiness that should
follow intelligent practice of a humane code. The devastation caused by
Mongol invasions and ravages and the subtle perversions induced by an
alien atmosphere have to be repaired and eradicated; but there is no
intrinsic reason why the social system of Islam should not again reach
and surpass the high level it commanded in the days of Al Ma’mun.

[Illustration: MEMAN LADY WALKING]

In a review of the middle classes of India, it would be impossible
to omit the rich and influential sect of Parsis. Descendants of the
ancient inhabitants of Persia, expelled after the Mussulman conquest,
followers of Zoroaster and worshippers of fire, they reached the
west coast of India after many perils, to be finally protected by a
Hindu Rána or prince. Small in numbers, for many centuries they lived
in the main by agriculture, though there were a few among them who
achieved a name in arms. With the coming of the British they changed
their pursuits and their social habits. Commerce had heretofore been
strictly protected by the exclusive guilds of the Hindu merchants. Its
doors were now thrown open. Moreover, the British official required
body-servants, if possible of good class. The Hindu was precluded
from accepting such an occupation by caste rules of purity and caste
prohibitions. The Zoroastrian religion left the Parsi free from such
scruples. Many members of the community, by commerce direct and by
the assistance that gratitude was ready to bestow, were soon able to
insinuate themselves into positions which they maintained by their
adaptability and their commercial integrity. In shipbuilding they
excelled, and both in this and in the kindred trade of ship-broking
they accumulated many fortunes. The liquor trade was their monopoly;
and, aided by the privilege of exclusive distilling and a monopoly of
sale, it was remunerative to an undreamt degree. By the end of the
eighteenth century, an old traveller notes, practically the whole of
Malabar Hill, the most fashionable and only really enjoyable portion of
Bombay had already passed into the ownership of rich Parsis. Throughout
the nineteenth century their wealth and their importance grew.

One of the most striking qualities of the Parsi community is its
aptitude for imitation. With the advent of British rule, this facility
stood them in good stead. It was not long before English education
became general and almost universal among them, while by their prompt
acquisition of the minor conventions of manners, they easily opened
the doors of European society. In consequence it was not long before
they attained a position of social importance, based upon solid
grounds of wealth and education. The Parsi woman was not left behind
in the advance of her caste. Many women studied diligently and even
passed the examinations of the University. In general they demanded
a liberty such as they read of in English novels, and fancied they
could see among their English friends. They refused to marry except at
their own choice. For the dull details of household management they
expressed contempt and considered their duties done when they looked
to the furnishing and decoration of their houses. In dress, the Parsi
woman has contrived no less to modify her own costume, originally a
slightly altered form of the Hindu woman’s, in imitation of European
fashion. She still retains the mantle or _sari_, but it is hemmed with
a border imported from London or Paris. An outer lace shirt is draped
like a blouse under the mantle. The trousers, which she has to wear
under her skirt by customary prescription, are so curtailed as to be
invisible, and the feet are thrust into silk stockings and Louis Quinze
shoes. Her jewelry is of European pattern, usually second-rate, and
she despises the beautiful antique designs of the Indian goldsmith as

The Parsi woman has in the past been greeted by an amount of praise
from European writers which, though intelligible, is yet almost
extravagant. It was natural to be pleased at so conscious an
imitation, especially in a generation when most Europeans had no doubt
of the superiority of their own civilization and were prone to judge
the merits of other races, like missionaries, by their aptitude for
assimilating its products. They could, after all, always clinch the
argument by pointing irrefutably to the triumphs of the Albert Memorial
and the Crystal Palace. In a country where few women of the better
classes appear in public and beauty is seldom displayed, the spectacle
of many gaily-dressed ladies, with graceful drapery, promenading along
an Indian street with the freedom of a popular sea-side resort at home,
gave almost as much pleasure and pride to the gratified Englishman as
it did to the girls’ own parents. It has required closer inspection and
broader judgment of East and West to notice the cracks that stretch,
no doubt inevitably, across the charming picture. New liberties,
imitation not always too wisely conceived, above all sudden commercial
prosperity--these have had their advantages. But they also have their
countervailing losses.

At the bottom of such disadvantages as appear is no doubt the broad
fact that the community as a whole consists of business men. There are
of course individuals who have adopted the learned professions and are
solicitors, doctors, barristers, and judges. But even they live in a
society and probably in a family circle which is wholly commercial; and
even their successes are estimated by the money they bring in. In many
ways Parsi society is like the Jewish society that is to be found in
the larger cities of Europe. But the Jews as a community are devoted
to the arts and have a ripe sense of emotional and spiritual values.
They respect learning and artistic expression. Even those--the greater
number--among them who are engaged in business frankly enough recognize
their inferiority to thinkers and artists. Again the Jews have always
had a tradition of aristocracy among themselves, and in recent years
have sought every opportunity of mingling with the nobilities of the
countries to which they belong. The best among them have, therefore,
raised themselves by art and letters and by an aristocratic code
far above the narrow vices of a commercial middle class, and it is
only the lower strata who continue to display the typical defects of
“business life.” But the Parsis have unfortunately so far missed these
mitigations. They have not, and, within the memory of history, they
have never had, the tradition of an aristocracy. They are separated
from the indigenous nobility, not only by religion, but by interest
and custom, and the difference has been deepened by their partiality
for an Anglicized mode of life. Though a few among them have done good
work, they have no real liking for learning and art. Hence there is
hardly a community in the world, except perhaps in the United States
of America, which bases its standards so largely upon wealth. Men are
esteemed mainly by what they have managed to acquire; precedence is
allowed according to size of income; the business man takes rank over
the professional; and a memorandum of their richest men is inscribed
on each Parsi’s heart, as on tablets of brass.

These are defects which are not unnatural when a small and isolated
community finds itself confined to commerce and is from its history
devoid of higher interests. They are defects which do not alter the
fact that not a few among the Parsis, especially those who have for
generations reposed upon inherited wealth and have taken to the learned
professions, are charming men and women and true and worthy friends.
Among those who have such a position--who do not aspire to dazzle
fashion in the wealthiest circles and do not require to increase their
incomes by further trading--the women are attractive by their education
and their rational freedom. They preserve a place of dignity and
reserve, while quietly taking from life the benefits it offers to a
liberal mind. They may even rise above the touchy vanity which is all
too common.

It must, however, be admitted that Parsi womanhood has suffered
harm from the excessive imitation of English habits--or what are
taken to be such. From the nature of the case, because of their own
inclinations and environment, the English life they have sought to
imitate has inevitably been that of the middle classes. And the effect
has been heightened by the enormous consumption of English novels
among Parsi women. Owing partly to national character and partly to
the demoralizing secret censorship which broods over the publishing
world, nearly all English novels have to be “pretty-pretty” falsehoods,
distorted away from the facts of life and the truths of nature. The
consequence has been to produce a dangerous mental confusion in which
spirituality and idealism are suppressed and replaced by a fruitless
sentimentality. Reality on the other hand is known and presented only
in the shape of hard cash. The harm done by such popular writings is
not so apparent in England, where they are part of the normal tissue
wastage of the nation. In a foreign and not immune constitution, they
produce rapid inflammation. One finds therefore among Parsi women, as
one does among the women of the United States, a mentality in which
impracticable and silly sentimentalism is mixed up inextricably with
a thirst for the solid advantages of wealth. They sigh for courtships
of the kind depicted in their favourite “literature,” with scores of
“dears” and “darlings” scribbled over scented letters, with moon-calf
glances and clammy squeezings of hands; they and the heroes of
their fancy get photographed together like any German _braut_ and
_brautigam_; they enter marriage with a blind eye turned to the hard
realities of human nature, to discipline for instance and duty, but
with the expectation of finding a husband on his knees to pamper every
wish and petulance. Yet at the same time, the Parsi, like the American,
girl will not let herself slide into these sentimentalities till she
is assured of her admirer’s income and position. Both restraints--that
which keeps her from love till she knows how money stands, and that
which keeps her during her courtship within the bounds of technical
chastity--come easy enough as she is, with a few honourable exceptions,
free from passion. She would never give herself to the wild love of
Romeo and Juliet or the abandoned ecstasy of Tristan and Isolde.
Hermann and Dorothea, or a drawing-room ballad, would appeal more
readily to her sympathies. That in England there is also another
type of womanhood, truer and greater, she does not know--how could
she? That there are girls of a fine candour and simplicity who are
taught in childhood to obey and to have quiet, effacing manners, who
respect a father whom they see controlling a large estate, honoured
in Parliament, perhaps governing a great dependency, who are bred in
a society of equals in which true and natural superiorities alone,
whether of age or seniority, of success in the hunting-field or in
the council, are admitted and publicly recognized, that such girls
bring to their husbands with their love, respect, and the heritage of
discipline, that as wives, while expecting to find fulfilment and the
realization of their hopes, they are ready to subserve the higher and
enduring interests of a family, of such facts and such nobilities of
life--worthy indeed of imitation if such there must be--there can be
little knowledge. Vital facts are not always plain upon the surface,
and in England no class is so quiet and unobtrusive as the one which
really counts.

[Illustration: PARSI FASHION]

The prevalence of a money standard in their lives has introduced among
the Parsis the great evil of excessive dowries. Generally speaking,
it may almost be said, no Parsi young man will marry a bride unless
her parents come down with a large settlement, and scandalous stories
are sometimes told of the means employed to extort larger sums from
the father. The girl whose family is poor--be she as beautiful as
Shirin and virtuous as an angel--stands in every danger of being
left a spinster. Day by day the probabilities against marriage grow
heavier, and the number of unmarried Parsi women of mature age goes
on increasing. Alone of all the peoples of India among them the
reproachful name of “old maid” can be used. The numbers of unmarried
women are already so great that this has become a serious danger to the
community, as for that matter it is among the upper middle classes of
Great Britain. “Old maid-ism” must have its consequences: hysteria and
other illness is on the increase; and the suffragette may soon become
as actual a terror and a retribution to the Parsis as she has been in
England. If this should ever happen, then climate and the surrounding
environment are likely to make the pathology of the situation even more
critical in India.

The marriage law which governs the Parsis is very much the same as
that which exists in England. Marriages are strictly monogamous, and
divorce can be given only by the decree of a public Court of Law on
grounds nearly the same as those admitted in the English Courts. In
practice early marriage has ceased to exist, and indeed marriages, as
in England, are as a rule contracted at far too late an age. The same
causes which lead so often to women remaining unmarried, have also
raised the average of age.

Parsi life presents, therefore, the picture of a society in which
woman have many seeming and some actual advantages, but in which,
on the other hand, they are more and more rapidly plunging into
unforeseen but very real evils. They have great liberty, a liberty
greater, or at least less restrained, than is enjoyed by the women of
the better classes in England or in France. They can have education
and the pleasures of a liberal mind. In accepting a husband they are
ostensibly allowed full freedom of choice, though in practice they
are of course limited by the usual considerations, by the importance
attached to wealth, and, especially, by the great difficulty of
securing any husband at all. They have the advantage of being trained
to mix without shyness in all societies. But, even apart from a certain
self-assertiveness which at times distresses their best admirers,
they have to suffer from the growing probability of a life-long
spinsterhood. Only too many will have to face the final misfortune of a
wasted and infructuous life.

The community is distinguished by its loyalty and its generosity;
and Parsi women, as well as men, play their part in that lavish
distribution of charity for which their race has become famous. It
could be hoped that, without foregoing what they have gained in
education and position, they should also preserve fresh the emotional
values of sweet and disciplined womanhood and be able to secure those
timely and assured conjugal relations which must be its fulfilment and
best reward.

Working and Aboriginal Classes

  “Sweetly the drum is beaten and
  Sweetly the girl comes to draw water:
  Sweet is the ochre on her forehead:
  Sweet is her bodice of silk:
  Sweet is her charming footstep.
  Ohé! the cakes baked by the girl:
  Sweet is the girl with her infant child.
  Lo, her dress is wet and clinging from the water
  And she is adorned with tassels of jewels:
  On her hands are bracelets
  And her feet are enriched with anklets.”

                 _Rowing Song of the Fisher Kolis._

  “A palmer came over the mountains and sat down under a barren tamarind
  Then he got him three stones and placed a pot upon them.
  He went to the midst of the town to ask alms and played his pipe as he
  The sound of his pipe reached the ear of Rádha.
  She ran towards her father and towards her mother:
  ‘You are my father and my mother: I am going off with this palmer for my
  ‘Do not go, my dearest daughter, I will give you all you want.
  Cows and buffaloes will I give and for your service four hand-maidens.’
  ‘What should I do with your cows and buffaloes?
  What should I do with your four maid-servants?
  For such a man have I prayed to God for full twelve years.’”

                                       _Marriage Song of the Fisher Kolis._


Chapter VI


If it was difficult in any way to summarize the varying conditions of
the middle classes and to present with anything like unity some picture
of their women, to attempt the same for the lower classes is to face
difficulties that are in fact insuperable. The middle classes, as in
all countries, are much conventionalized, and are always busied with
a conscious effort to live up to an ideal that may be misapprehended
or incomplete, but is still in the main intelligible. The differences
that exist are either geographical or sectarian--differences due
to tradition and development in differing environment, in varying
faiths, for instance, and doctrines. The lower classes, especially
the aboriginal tribes, still stand so narrowly on the circumference
of the Hindu system that, with a literal eccentricity, they evade the
attraction of conventional rule and regulation. They are governed
by customs, often of immemorial antiquity, which may be outside the
orbit of Hindu precept, and by superstitious fears which lead to
sudden and capricious divagations. The main criterion of their status
and the chief factor of divergence in their lives is the degree to
which they have accepted Hindu Law or, to put it more exactly, the
Brahman customs recorded in Sanscrit scriptures and stereotyped in the
decisions of the Law Courts.

Broadly speaking, throughout India proper, the lower classes that
stand within the Hindu system are the offspring of mixed Scythian and
Dravidian parentage. But neither term can be taken too strictly. In
Scythian may be included not only the hordes of White Huns, Gujjars,
and Kusháns, but even some remote trace of earlier conquerors of Aryan
race: Dravidian is little more than a collective name for the dark
peoples who, before the dawn of history, were in possession of the
Indian continent. From the two races in mixed and varying proportion
are sprung the artisans and respectable cultivators of India, probably
even the untouchable and degraded castes that cluster in dirty hovels
on the outskirts of every village. In the far south they are almost, if
not quite, Dravidian; in the north-west, where the five rivers flow,
they are nearly pure Scythian. Between the two extremes are a multitude
of shades and a multitude of customs. Even the Mussulman lower classes
are in the main descended from the same constituents. Converts to
Islam though they are and legally free to marry as they please among
believers, they have usually restricted themselves to their fellows and
have continued the line unbroken as it ran in the days of idolatry. The
pretty dyer girl whose bright clothes and open smiling face is so much
a feature of Ahmedabad, for instance, is by descent no different from
her Hindu sisters. Where she has altered, where her gait is more free
and her glance more bold and frank, the change is due to that influence
of belief upon physique, to which far too little attention has so far
been paid by the professors of anthropology. This influence of mind
upon body can be seen in Europe where the Jews, descendants of so many
peoples and, at least as far as Eastern Europe is concerned, mainly
Ugro-Turkish by race, have yet by an unanimous and constant habit of
thought largely acquired the marked cast of features which is called
“Semitic.” In India the Mussulman population is a living instance
of the same modification of the physical by the mental. The change
has been too much ignored by a science which, from its mathematical
prepossessions, thinks only in things that can be weighed or counted
and neglects forces which must be measured by a subtler calculus.

[Illustration: MUSSULMAN WEAVER]

The Mussulman weaver women, again, bear sons who are known for their
turbulence and who strike home in every sectarian riot. Yet the Hindu
weavers of the same kin are quiet and even timid. The handsome Sunni
Bohora women of Broach and Cambay, converted descendants of the
prevailing caste of Hindu cultivators in the province, are famous not
only for their looks--and striking is their bold beauty--- but also for
their virile energy and resolution.

In the Hindu artisan and cultivating classes, the status of women
is most affected by the social position accorded to the caste as a
whole. The higher the importance of the caste and the more it acquires
wealth and consideration, the more quickly it accepts child-marriage
and--what is socially even more important--the prohibition of widow
remarriage. These in India are the tests of fashion; and each caste, or
even any single section of a caste, as it finds its position improving,
confirms and establishes it by the fresh burden that it throws upon
its womankind. For the enhanced consideration gained by wealth, and
the ceremonial purity which can be bought by wealth, the women pay.
Life-long widowhood is the price extorted from the individual for the
social prestige of the class.

In the last thirty years a remarkable and quite the most important
feature of Indian history has been the rapid growth and extension of
Hinduism. Yet, so easy and natural has it been, it has passed almost
unnoticed. There are many in Europe who believe that Indian castes
are fixed, immanent, and immutable. And this belief is upheld with
conviction by almost every Indian. Yet nothing could be more erroneous.
The concept of caste is no doubt ancient and of a strength so confirmed
that it can almost with propriety be called permanent. Yet the actual
castes--the things that _are_--are fluid in the extreme and are in
constant movement, while the boundaries of the system have recently
had vast extensions. The ease of communication given by railways has
brought the central Brahman influences home to every hamlet in the
continent, till whole tribes that were formerly hostile have been
persuaded to adopt the name and many of the customs of the Hindu. At
the same time new thoughts of Indian nationality and solidarity, born
of English education, have roused in the higher and educated classes
a real desire to comprise within the Hindu fold peoples from whom
their fathers would have shrunk as from foreign and debased savages.
But the idea round which the whole caste system revolves is that of
marriage. Far above the maintenance of ceremonial purity, far above
mere restrictions on food and water, stands, as the one essential
rule of caste, the limitation of lawful marriage to a fixed circle of
descent, real or fanciful. And with this limitation, which is of the
very essence of Hinduism, goes a certain view of marriage as magical,
sacramental. Thus each additional conversion of a strange tribe to the
Hindu system brings fresh adherents in great numbers to what, more or
less clearly adumbrated, is at least a reflection of the Brahman ideal
of womanhood. To coarser minds and to tribes not much advanced beyond
the savage, only a thin ray of the ideal can penetrate. Among such
tribes the woman may remain free for some long time from the trammels
of the higher law.

[Illustration: CAMBAY TYPE]

For that law can be tolerable only when it is fully comprehended. But
as they advance in civilization and the conversion to Hinduism is
solidified, as it were, by developing education, so the ideal, more
and more clearly grasped, begins to be followed in practice. It is at
this stage that child-marriage and the unrelieved doom of widowhood are
introduced. New India therefore presents the paradox that while in the
upper class a few, gained to the cause of rationalism, allow widows to
remarry, discarding almost with violence the old sanctions and the old
beliefs, side by side in the great mass of the people the prejudice
daily grows and millions now forbid remarriage who thirty years ago
would never have dreamt of the restriction.

But as a whole the properly Hinduized lower castes have no great
interest to the observer. The conduct of the women is as close as
possible an imitation of the better class, deflected as in all
countries by poverty and labour and by the inevitable roughness and
coarser understanding of their class. To trace in detail the full
recent growth and development of such a caste might have its interest,
but would transgress the purpose and limits of this book. Of especial
interest, should anyone attempt it, would be the development, of the
dairyman and milkmaid class in India. Divided into many septs, and
in some instances differing now in race, they are descended from the
Scythian tribes of Gujjar and Ahir. It would be interesting to trace
them from the uplands of Kashmir, where they still roam, through the
Gangetic plain to Káthiawád, where among many pretty women their
women--Cháran and Rabári--are perhaps the most beautiful, and where
their men are genealogists and bards, and stand surety for the treaty
bonds of kings. Even in appearance, and greatly still in custom, they
have much of the high mountain air of the great plateaux on the roof of
Asia, where once they wandered with their sheep over dry, wind-swept

[Illustration: THE MILKMAID]

More homogenous and far more thoroughly imbued in the Hindu tint
are the striking fisher or Són Koli caste of the western coasts.
The collective name of Koli covers a multitude of tribes--not yet
fully embraced in the Hindu caste system--whose unity of name and
manifold distinction in fact forms one of the most difficult of the
unexplained problems of Indian ethnology. A century ago most of their
tribes were freebooters, cattle-lifters, caterans. Many Koli families
won themselves little principalities, and some have got themselves
recognized among the Rajput clans. Others are peaceful cultivators,
and there are many who live as labourers by the sweat of their brow.
But to this day there are some who prefer crime, and will even board
a running train to rob the goods waggons. All of them have, perhaps,
some strain of descent from an earlier race--Kolarian, or call it what
you will--settled in India before the Aryan invasions. But it is clear
that, though they retained a tribal organization, they must in great
but varying proportion have mingled with and assumed the characters of
other races. In places they are hard to distinguish from the aboriginal
Bhil; in other regions--in Káthiawád, for instance, and the salt plains
where the receding sea has made way between Gujarát and Sind--they seem
rather to be the residue of a Rajput soldiery, common soldiers perhaps,
not ennobled by a diplomatic victory, or married to women of some
earlier tribe. At any rate among some of these tribes there subsist
traces of customs foreign to the rest of India, such as the rule of
marrying an elder brother’s widow or of the younger brother, even
before her widowhood, sharing in her favours.

But of community with those wilder clans there is now little trace in
the customs of the fisher tribes who live upon the shore that stretches
from north of Bombay City down towards the Malabar coast. In the past a
certain fondness for piracy was perhaps a solitary sign of a probable
connection. From their appearance, however, it is clear that they are
the descendants of a people as widely distinguished on the one hand
from the darker farming and labouring castes who form the major part of
the population, as on the other they are from the grey-eyed and pallid
Brahmans of the coast who are its spiritual aristocracy. Distinguished
physically from the other inhabitants by their light-brown complexion,
the round curves of their faces, and their smiling expressions, they
are equally distinguished by their occupation, their separate dialect,
and their aristocratic constitution. It is also clear that from the
date of their settlement on the coast-line, they have kept themselves
unusually unaffected either by the amours or by the moral and mental
ideals of the surrounding population. History is not plain in the
matter of their arrival on the coast, but a probable inference from
tradition is that most of the present day Kolis are descended from
immigrants who came down from the hills some four hundred years ago. It
was only about two centuries ago, under the rule of the Peshwas, that
they entered the fold of Hinduism, and they themselves say that they
were first taught to know the Gods at that time by one Kálu Bhagat, an
ascetic who had himself been of their tribe.

They are peaceful enough now, but they are still bold sailors, and
it is their fishing-boats which bring the daily catch to the Bombay
market. The men are handsome and well-built, with curious scarlet caps,
like an ascetic’s, which are the distinctive uniform of their class.
But, as would seem in all countries to be the case with fisher-folk,
where the man toils on the sea and on shore rests and smokes in
idleness, in the daily round of life it is the woman who counts most.
At home she is mistress, and she takes the earnings of her man and
gives him what he needs for his drink and smoke. She carries the fish
to market and drives her bargain with keen shrewdness. She does not
lose as a saleswoman by the attraction of her smiling lips, showing
her sound white teeth, and of her trim, tight figure. The dress is
striking. The skimpy mantle or _sari_ is slung tight between the legs
and over the upper thigh, so that every movement of limb and curve of
figure shows in bold lines, as the fisherwoman carries her basket on
her head to the crowded market. The freedom and strength that they
draw from the ocean is preserved by a customary law which allows women
a reasonable liberty. In many ways the Koli fishwife is as fine and
independent as her sister of Newhaven in Scotland. Like her, she has
her share of her husband’s drink when there are guests in the house or
the sorrow of the swirling, driving rain is forgotten in a cheering
glass. On their right hand these women wear a silvern bracelet of
peculiar and heavy shape such as is worn by no other caste. No other
bangle or bracelet, ornament or jewel is worn on that hand; and the
absence of such adornments is for them a sign of the covenant under
which God protects his fishers from the perils of the deep.

Among the fisher-folk marriages are seldom contracted till after
puberty and the bridegroom is usually required to have attained at
least twenty years. For they hold that a youngster below that age
cannot work as he should at oar and sail, if he have a wife to cherish.
The wife is usually consulted by her parents and asked whether she is
willing to accept her suitor. Widows are of course allowed to marry
again, and a full divorce is granted to a husband only if his wife be
taken in adultery. In other cases, only orders of what can be called
“judicial separation” are passed--with the same natural results that
in England follow upon such decrees. Among the many castes of India,
there is usually a constitution which can fairly be called democratic;
disputes are decided and case-law made by an elected tribunal. The
fisher-folk have other ways. The final decision in their caste rests
with an hereditary headman aided, but not bound, by assessors. He
gives decrees of divorce, in which the claims of the wife are treated
with more justice than would be got from an elected and therefore
hide-bound tribunal. In all cases of desertion, misuse, cruelty and
neglect, whether accidental or intended, the wife can get a speedy
separation by the order of the headman. On him again rests the duty
of providing for all orphan girls and finding them good husbands.
Further, the headman, sitting by himself “in chambers,” has the right
of protecting women who become mothers without being wives, of fining
their paramours, and of finding them husbands to cover their disgrace.
There are signs, unhappily, of the power passing--to be replaced by
the usual elected body and rules derived more strictly from Brahman
custom. But in the meantime women fare well, and their own bright
faces, their healthy children, and their contented husbands all testify
to the value of a practice as sane as it is unusual. Happiness readily
expresses itself in song, and the songs of the fisher-folk are stirring
and tuneful. They sing them in a dialect of their own, apart from the
written language; and on their festivals it is inspiriting to hear the
choruses of men and women joyfully chanting these songs of the sea.

[Illustration: A FISHWIFE OF BOMBAY]

Of aboriginal tribes pure and simple--creatures untamed and almost
untouched by the various civilizations that one after another have
shaped humanity in the Indian continent--there are many still left
in the wilder forests and mountains. But the latest of the great
civilizations that have reached India has set in action forces
which they can no longer elude. A law that is at once impartial
and all-embracing and a railroad system which, in search of trade,
penetrates the jungle and tunnels through the rock, have brought even
their homes within the economy of modern life. They are being quickly
sucked into the vortex of Hinduism, to emerge half-stifled as a menial
class. As at the touch they leave their strangeness and their jungle
ways, they sink to the lowest scale among the civilized, where once,
with all the dangers of wild animals and exposure to disease, they
had at least been free of the forest. Among the smaller aboriginal
tribes the Todas of the Nilghiri mountains are conspicuous. For one
thing they are an instance which reduces to absurdity the inferences
of an anthropology too subject to abstractions and too reliant on
skull-measurement. For anthropologists of that school have found the
measurements of the Todas to be exactly Aryan--the one thing which--(if
the word is to have any meaning at all) they cannot be. The Todas are
a small tribe now, some 700 persons in all. They support themselves by
rearing buffaloes, whose milk and cheese they sell to the residents of
the neighbouring sanatorium, recently built upon a mountain plateau
that for hundreds of years had been thought impenetrable. In the spring
they scatter with their herds through the pastures of the uplands and
return to their dirty huts in the rainy season. But the touch of the
finger of civilization has crushed their loins, and the decay of this
curious tribe is too far advanced to be arrested. Drink, opium, and
poverty have contributed to their ruin, and the tribe is scourged by
the ravages of a disease to which they were new. The women are vicious
without emotion, and mercenary without disgust. Miscarriages are
frequent, and those children who see the light are born diseased, are
left neglected, and die like flies.


Of all the aboriginal peoples--more important even than the Gond
peoples and the Gond Rajas of Central India--the greatest and the
most impressive are the Bhil tribes. They can be traced from the first
dawn of history; and in all the Sanscrit poems, Bhil queens hospitable
to errant Aryan knights are as needful an incident as Bhil archers,
liker devils than men, shooting their death-dealing arrows from behind
rock and bush. They held kingdoms and had founded temples, reservoirs
and towns when first they met the fair warriors from the north. Then
they were driven forth and hunted and slain, and their homes were
made desolate and they took to the forests as broken men, their hand
against all others. Century after century they lay hidden in their
lairs, coming forth only to rob and raid, cruel and merciless since
they themselves were dealt with cruelly and without mercy. Yet one
thing they were always, autochthonic, like some primeval force in whom,
if all could have their rights, the soil and its title must to the
end be vested. And so it is that to this day they have by a curious
prescription a symbolic function at the coronation of Rajput princes.
When a ruler first ascends his throne, by a Hindu custom, a mark of
ochre is printed on his brow by a priest as an auspicious omen and a
sign of fortune. But for the Rajput chiefs who rule in the country that
was once the Bhils’, the mark must be made by blood pricked from the
finger or toe of a Bhil tribesman or his sister. Even the first and
proudest chief in India, the Mahárána of Mewár, does thus acknowledge
the autochthonous race whom he displaces but who hold the prior right.

From Mewár the Bhil tribes reach west to the confines of Gujarát and
south to the Deccan plateau. Their status varies as the land they
occupy is more or less open and cultivated. In the forests they are
independent and self-sufficient, ruled by their own tribal custom,
rough perhaps and uncultured, but merry, equal one to the other,
not unprosperous. In the civilized tracts, where economic forces of
competition have free-play and Hinduism has prevailed, they have sunk
to the position of a proletariat, supporting themselves on labour such
as they can get and by theft whenever possible. They lose their virtues
at the contact and merge on the untouchable masses of the lowest Hindu
castes, with the same vices and the same imitative rules and customs.

[Illustration: GOND WOMAN]

On the hills and in the forests of the Rewa Kántha States and
Mewár, however, the Bhils are seen at their best--sporting, loyal,
happy wildmen of the woods. They have no villages like the Hindu
plainsmen--close-crowded and ill-smelling. Each family has its own
homestead in the clearing, a hut of logs grass-thatched, overgrown
by the creeper-gourd with its yellow flowers. The men are skilled in
the use of bow and arrow and love to roam the forests after game.
They follow the tracks by which wild animals move at dawn from the
valleys, and they know each lair or water-hole. The women also know
the forest, where they collect grass seeds to be ground to flour, and
where they gather the luscious fleshy flower of the mhowra tree to cook
into cakes or distil into fiery liquor. They keep large numbers of
cattle and every homestead has its own fowls and chickens. Two enemies
only prey upon them, the leopard who seizes the grazing calf, and the
anopheles mosquito which injects into their blood the malaria that ages
and kills them early. For the rest while the years are good and the
seasons kindly and the rain comes in good time and falls sufficiently,
they are happy and free from care. But when there is scarcity, they
die of famine, save for the relief brought to their doors by British
administration. Among the hill tribes, where they still distinguish
themselves from the Hindus, the Bhil woman has much freedom. When she
has long passed puberty, at seventeen say or eighteen, she marries
pretty much as she pleases. They are, in a pale copy of the Rajput
feudal chivalry, divided into clans and have the religious prohibition
of marriage within the clan. The girl must, therefore, choose a husband
from another family. But the clan descents are rather vague and
blurred, and the prohibition does not in practice hamper their choice
seriously. Outside of this limit, at any rate, they marry with their
heart. Only the intending bridegroom must make the girl’s father a
customary payment of money or of cattle, often stolen in a raid from
some lowland village. If he cannot pay, however, he has the option of
doing seven years’ service in the father’s house, as Jacob did for
Leah. During that time he is free of the girl, though he is not fully
married till the end, and he lives in the house more as a dependent
poor relation than a servant. Till they are married, the girls are not
expected to be too strictly virtuous. While they are young, their sport
with neighbours’ boys is merely smiled at indulgently as “the play of
children.” Even when they have ripened to real womanhood--“and then
Chloe first learnt that what had happened near the forest was but the
play of shepherds”--they still wear the white bodice which shows them
to be girls unclaimed by any man, and no one looks too closely to their
actions. When once, however, they have chosen their husband and settled
down to marriage, it is rare indeed that there be thought of any other
man. Rare above all is it, if there have been children of the marriage.
If, however, there should be trouble, divorce is easily arranged by
a small payment to the husband and the wife is free to marry another
man. A widow of course is no less free to marry, and a young woman
never remains in widowhood. Men and women live on very equal terms,
and there is much good-humoured affection between husband and wife and
children. Not unlike is it to the life of the Scottish peasant and his
wife, an easy freedom in youth leading to a homely and loving marriage.
The money that they earn is often kept by the house-wife, who allows
her man so much per week for drink, the chief diversion of the Bhil.
She also is none too strict and likes her glass at a festival. But the
woman is usually temperate, while the man only too often drinks to a
wild excess.

[Illustration: BHIL GIRL]

The Bhil women, deep-breasted, broad, their large thighs showing bare,
look fit to be the mothers of sound children, healthy and strong.
Pleasant and even comely they appear, with their flat, good-natured
faces and their plump limbs, their features a little coarse perhaps,
but sonsy. Their hair lies low on the brow in a pleated fringe, caught
on the crown by a bell-shaped silver brooch. They are fond, like all
savages, of adornment, and layer upon layer of glass beads, dark blue,
white and crimson, lie heavy over neck and breast. Heavy bands of brass
circle the leg from knee to instep, and clash and tinkle as they move.
A coarse cloak of navy blue, draped from the head over the body, is
tucked up into the waist-band, leaving the thighs half-bare. They look
men boldly in the face, with candour and self-reliance.

The Bhils, both men and women, are fond of a joke, and nowhere in India
is laughter heard more freely and more readily. The more Rabelaisian
the joke, it must be allowed, the better they relish it; and women are
as openly amused by an indecency as men. Their songs are not always
lady-like, and a wedding song gives them full scope for merry ballads,
of a sort common in Europe up to the seventeenth century but foreign
to the drawing-rooms of to-day, which have room only for a Zola or an
Ibsen. Laughter the Bhils have and loyalty, good-nature and simple
hearts. What they have in their minds they speak openly; and plain
words can surely be forgiven, when the thought is straight and true.

Dancing is one of the great amusements of the Bhils, both men and
women, and they should be seen dancing at the spring Saturnalia, the
festival of the Holi. They light a large bonfire of teak-wood logs,
throwing into the flames handfuls of grain as an offering to the local
goddess. Then the dance proceeds round the blazing fire. The men carry
light sticks in their hands, which they tap against each other, at
first slowly and listlessly, as they begin to circle slowly round. In
the centre the drummers stand, beating the skins in wild harmony. Then
the dance grows wilder and always wilder, and the dancers shout the
shrill whoop, not unlike the Highlander’s when he dances, a yell which
quavers from the compressed throat through quickly trilling lips. As
the time quickens, the sticks are beaten faster upon each other, and
the dancers move three steps forward, then a turn, then three steps
forward, once again. The women also dance round and round, and their
shrill voices begin a song. The men follow the words and reply, verse
to verse, in a weird antiphony. When the fun becomes louder, the men
join hands in a circle and the women climb up by their clasped hands
till on each man’s shoulders there stands a woman, her hands also
joined to her neighbour’s, and the whole circle revolves to the tune
of some village song. When they are not dancing, jests and jibe are
bandied freely between the younger lads and their girls, and now and
again a loving look or touch is rewarded with a ringing box on the ears.

But, with all their freedom, the Bhil women have their pride and
virtue. From their womanhood and independence they will not readily
derogate, even if the price be heavy. And not seldom the stranger,
some stall-fed Hindu from a fatter land, has learnt this to his cost.
There was such a one, a Charge Officer, who administered (or was
supposed to) a relief camp in the Bhil country during a famine year.
Being well-fed and lazy, pampered and a fool, he thought he could
have his will of the bold, “unlady-like” forest women who were forced
by famine to seek relief at his hands. So he cast a lecherous eye on
one who was young and fair and had a merry laugh. And being fat and
foolish, he put the alternative to her bluntly, as such a man would,
with no nonsense about it. If she was not pleased, she could look out
for herself elsewhere. So she smiled a merry smile and fixed an hour
when he should meet her in the forest. But when he got there, he found
not her alone whom he sought but with her a round dozen of her women
friends. And each one had a good, fresh-cut stick in her hand. Then
they explained to him at some length, and with free and appropriate
gesture, that they knew exactly where to use a stick with most effect.
Their language was distinctly daring, but they left him clear about
their meaning. And that after all is the main thing. It took him quite
a long time to get home after they had done with him, and crawling
through the jungle is not pleasant going. Even when he was dismissed
from his employment a couple of days later, the impression of their
arguments was still acute. But there were hopes that in time he would
begin to understand the character of the Bhil woman.

Such manners and such characters it would be difficult to find
elsewhere in India. With the general Hindu ideal of service, chastity,
and effacement they have no common ground. Yet it cannot be doubted
that here is a life which makes for happiness and, in its own way,
for self-realization. The Bhils are wild and uncultured, of course,
and they have to suffer from the fevers of the forest and from wild
animals. Of luxury they know nothing and their pleasures are primitive
and rather coarse. But they are contented. The wife loves her man and
the husband cherishes his wife with a very real fondness and even with
respect, and they have a cheerful pride as they watch their children
play and grow strong and upright. They share their hardships and their
small joys fairly and equally. They tend their garden with a kindly
contentment; and at night, their labour done, they drink their glass
and have their jest, and go to bed in the forest clearing tired and
comfortable. And when the Bhil does rob a travelling merchant and
is caught, it is for his wife alone that he yearns in the dreary
separation of the prison.

Civilization, if it comes to the Bhil from the East, brings with it
child-marriage and Brahman law and caste degradation; if from the West,
it brings the factory and the industrial slum. Drunken and thrift-less,
oppressed by customs which he cannot understand, he finds himself
submerged in the lowest proletariat, exploited and despised. Can
civilization give anything to the Bhil better than what he has?--ease
and liberty!

The Dancing Girl

  “She measures every measure, everywhere
  Meets art with art. Sometimes as if in doubt,
  Not perfect yet and fearing to be out,
  Trails her plain ditty in one long-spun note
  Through the sleek passage of her open throat,
  A clear unwrinkled song: then doth she point it
  With tender accents, and severely joint it
  By short diminutions.”

                          _Music’s Duel._ CRASHAW.

    “Nowadays Indian ‘reformers’ in the name of ‘civilization and
    science’ seek to persuade the _muralis_ (girls dedicated to the
    Gods) that they are ‘plunged in a career of degradation.’ No
    doubt in time the would-be moralists will drive the _muralis_
    out of their temples and their homes, deprive them of all
    self-respect, and convert them into wretched outcastes, all in
    the cause of ‘civilization and science.’ So it is that early
    reformers create for the reformers of a later day the task of
    humanizing life afresh.”

                      _Sex in Relation to Society._ HAVELOCK ELLIS.

Chapter VII


For the women of India an independent profession is a thing almost
unknown. Here are no busy typewriters, no female clerks, no barmaids.
The woman spends her whole life in a home, supported and maintained,
her father’s as a child, then her husband’s, or else one of those
large joint households in which every woman of the family, widowed
or married, finds her place. If she is poor, she may have work to do
in plenty, besides the care of her house and children. She may sew
or go out to help in richer households; often she joins her husband
in his work, and you may see the potter’s wife fetching earth and
carrying bricks, or the washerman’s wife drive his laden ox. Sometimes
she labours in the field, busily weeding or bent double as in the
water-covered muddy patch she transplants the young rice-shoots. But in
none of these tasks does she work for herself, alone and independent,
at a trade chosen by her own taste. She labours as one member of a
higher unit, the family of which she is a part, and she knows that by
her efforts she helps to feed and clothe her children or to add to
the funds controlled by the head of the joint family. Even domestic
service, in the European sense of the word, hardly exists. Ruling and
noble families have their maid-servants, but these are not independent
women hired under a contract, enforceable at law. They are women born
and bred in the palace, bound by affection and upbringing, hereditary
house-servants, almost slaves. They are treated as of the family, are
paid by food and clothing, by presents and the final gift in marriage
to a male servant. Only a few, a very few there are, widows mainly,
usually Mussulman, who can in the Western sense of the word be called

In recent years changes in ideas, and still more changes in social
economy, have produced a few women in regard to whose work it is
possible to use the words “independent profession.” There are even
a few lady doctors, Parsis mainly, in whose case the imitation
of European customs and the resultant obstacles to marriage have
facilitated study and the adoption of a career. There are far more who
are teachers--always underpaid--in girls’ schools, or nurses--also
underpaid--or midwives. Largely these are Brahman widows, who,
repudiating the austerities of traditional belief, have found a more
useful life by these labours, and relieve their relatives of the charge
of their support or bring up their children by their own praiseworthy

But even these are still exceptions to be counted by hundreds, by
thousands at the most, out of all the three hundred millions of India’s
population. For the women of India, it may almost be said, there
is only one independent profession open, one that is immemorial,
remunerative, even honoured, and that is the profession of the dancing
girl. There is hardly a town in India, however small, which has not
its group of dancing girls, dubious perhaps and mediocre; and there is
not a wedding, hardly an entertainment of any circumstance, at which
the dancing girl’s services are not engaged. And it may be added that
there is hardly a class so much misjudged or a profession so much

For long generations and in many countries the dancing girls of India
have been the theme of poets and stock figures of romanticism. In
Indian literature it was of course natural that they should find a
place. And in fact, from the earliest Sanscrit poets down to the
novelists and play-wrights of modern Bengal or Gujarát, there are
few dramas in which a dancer does not play a role. Often the part is
pathetic, even tragic, while it is usually edifying and pietistic. The
courtesan who, urged by the eloquence or attraction of a pious ascetic,
finds the grace of God and abandons art for austerity and the palace
for the hermitage, is one of the recurrent conventions of the Indian
classics. In one of the best-known of Mahrathi poems, there is such a
picture, expressed with vigour and emotion. Converted to self-denial
and renunciation, the dancing girl, once beautiful, lies alone, dirty
and squalid, without food, in a witch-haunted graveyard, affrighted by
ghosts, tormented by spirits of evil, yet uplifted by the love of God
and blessed by her memories of the saint whose coldness was to her
the sign of a higher adoration. But in the literature of Europe the
bayadère, to use a name corrupted from the Portuguese, has also been a
frequent and a luxurious figure. In the romantic fancies of the late
eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries, she was, both in France
and Germany, a personage on whom poets lavished the embellishments
of their art. Her hazy outlines they bespangled with the imagery of
fiction and the phantasies of invention. She was a symbol for oriental
opulence, a creature of incredible luxury and uncurbed sensuousness,
or tropic passion and jewelled magnificence. From her tresses blew the
perfumes of lust; on her lips, like honey sweet, distilled the poisons
of vice; hidden in her bodice of gold brocade she carried the dagger
with which she killed.

Divest her of poetic association. Rob her of the hues cast by the
distant dreams of romanticism. Strip her even of the facts of history
and the traditions of the Indian classics. Yet she remains a figure
sufficiently remarkable. Not tragic and certainly not gay, she embodies
in herself so much of India, both its past and present, that without
understanding her life and significance it is impossible to comprehend
the social whole which she explains and commentates.

[Illustration: DANCER IN MIRZAPUR]

The very name of dancing girl, it must be noted, is a misnomer. For as
an artist she finds expression primarily in song, not in the dance.
In the Indian theory of music, dancing is but an adjunct, one rhythm
the more, to the sung melody. It is the singer’s voice which, is
the ultimate means of music, her song which is its real purpose. To
embellish its expression and heighten its enjoyment the singer takes
the aid of instruments, the pipe, the strings, the drum and not least
of the dance. Regarded in its first elements, the dance is one means
the more of marking the time of the melody. Throughout the Indian
dance the feet, like the tuned drums, are means to mark the beats.
The time is divided into syllables or bars and the dancer’s beating
feet, circled with a belt of jingling bells, must move and pause in
the strictest accordance. The right foot performs the major part, the
left completes the rhythmic syllable. But further by her dance the
singer’s art is to make more clear and more magnetic the meaning of
her song. With her attitudes and gestures she accords her person to
her melody and sense, till her whole being, voice and movement, is but
one living emotion. Her veil half-drawn over her features, her head
averted, a frown wrinkling her brow, she portrays modesty recoiling
from a lover. With joined hands uplifted to her forehead, with body
bent, and eyes cast upon the ground, she accompanies the hymns of
worship and resignation to God’s will. With quickly moving gesture,
she marks the harsher sounds of rage or mortified indignation. Even
pleasure and the tenderer joy she represents by the softly swaying body
and slow waving movements of her upturned hands. But it is not enough
that gesture should be natural and appropriate. Mere realism would not
harmonize with the songs and instrumental music to which it is an
accompaniment. Its crudities would be out of tune, conspicuous, even
brutal. The dancer’s gestures and pantomime must be soft, rhythmic,
and restrained. Like every other art, dancing too has its economy
and its self-restraint. And the way to this ideal harmony is through
the simplifications of convention and the discipline of a graceful
technique. The dancer has to learn by painful practice to move her
limbs in harmony with the rhythms of her melody, to avoid all that
is abrupt or unsymmetrical. Each pose should be that of a statue,
emotion poising in a harmony of line and balance. In order to attain
this complete accord of movement and melody, this union of grace and
emotional expression, it is necessary to conventionalize the means by
strict attention to the material presented to the creative artist--in
the case of the dance, the youthful female figure. As in a painting, to
the trained eye, a line presents the transition between two differently
lit surfaces, so in the dance, by an habitual agreement between the
spectator and the performer, certain simple movements are made to evoke
wider imaginations. Indian dancing, like every art, must have its
own conventions. But they are conventions finally based upon actual
mimicry, simplifications, one may say, of natural movements. They are
attained by the exclusion of all that is superfluous, leaving only the
essential curve or contour of the movement. They are the actual made
spiritual, by the excision of all excess, by the suppression of the
uncouthness which defective material and stiff muscles force upon
human action. The movements of the Indian dancer bear to the primitive
gestures of men and women, in the moments of actual impulse, the same
relation as the simplified form of Indian painting and sculpture bear
to the realities of living flesh and blood in light and shadow. To
the European the conventions are difficult to understand, as they
presuppose a different training; and in him they do not readily awake
the required emotion. For European art has for many centuries been in
the main realistic, concerned above all with the material appearance of
things and actions. The art of the East, on the other hand, has in all
its leading schools sought the spiritual, striving with the jejunest
outlines to interpret the significance which may underlie the outward
clothing of form and colour and surface. Moreover, the oriental eye
has a natural aptitude for decorative pattern, to which the excessive
devotion of the Indian intellect to deduction and abstract analysis
affords a parallel. The artist, therefore, does not rest content
with simplification but further seeks to manipulate the conventions,
through which he realizes his spiritual meaning, into a symmetric and
decorative pattern. The same tendencies appear in the dance, when
practised as an art, in India.

There are two great methods of artistic dancing in India which
correspond to the main geographical distinction of the continent
and can be called the Peninsular and the Northern. The Peninsular
or Southern has its home and training-ground in Madras, where the
temple dancing girls, the “servants of God” as they are called in the
vernacular, follow their fine tradition. The old Hindu city of Tanjore
with its exuberant temple is the centre of the school, to which it has
given its name. The other or Northern method is at its highest in the
cities of Delhi and Lucknow, more secular in its purpose, yet more
austere in its expression.

In the North where the girls, wearing an adaptation of the Mussulman
dress, are mostly of that faith and have no bond with any temple
or religious institution, the dance or gesture-play is strictly
subordinate to the song. The artist moves back and forward a few
steps as she sings, the feet of course always beating the time,
while her hands are raised or lowered and her fingers grouped in a
few conventional poses, gracefully artificial or simply decorative,
but with no present actuality and little stimulus to emotion. The
pleasure of the spectator is in the main intellectual, the effect of
reminiscence and association, while he interprets the meaning of which
the movements are suggestive but abstract symbols. At the end of the
verse the dancer floats softly round the circle of spectators, with
coquetry in her eyes, extorting applause by a quick virtuosity of steps
and pirouettes, which have little relation to any living and real

The Peninsular school, on the other hand, gives the dance in and by
itself a far higher value and more extended field. It is far more than
the mere visible decoration of a sung melody. It has a life of its
own, often wild and passionate; and has its own instant appeal to
independent emotions. Often the dance is in itself the pantomime of a
whole story, the meeting and love of Krishna and Rádha, for instance,
at the river’s side. The melody of the instruments is a suitable
accompaniment and the voice does little more than supply a pleasing
refrain. Sometimes it is a mere rhythmic and decorative reconstruction
of everyday actions, the mimicry, harmonious and graceful, of a boy
flying a kite or of a fluttering butterfly. The dancers move lightly
and quickly over the floor, their steps diversified, their gestures
free and natural. Upon their features play the lines of hope and joy,
of sorrow and disdain. Then as the story closes, in a final burst of
melody, their voices rise with the instruments that accompany in a last
_forte_ repetition of the refrain or motive.

Thus in the Peninsular or Tanjore school the art of dancing, though
also, of course, dependent upon conventionalisms of gesture and
movement, and significant of meanings which it suggests rather than
imitates, has a more actual appeal to emotion and a less fettered
freedom. It has a finer spontaneity, a freer flow of imagination. At
its best, it is a splendid school of dancing, the only method perhaps
worthy to be put beside, though below, the magnificent creations of the
Russian ballet.

From the point of view of art, however, even the Tanjore dancing girls,
and still more the performers of the Northern school, have certain
defects, which could be removable if the players and public had a
finer sense of artistic purpose. The women themselves are too often
of little education, illiterate, with their tastes uncultivated. A
good voice and some natural grace, with training only in technique,
may make a pleasing enough dancer but cannot produce an artist. For
any excellent attainment a higher cultivation is required. Another
difficulty, peculiar to India, is that many experts will, from
superstitious fear or jealousy, refuse to impart their secrets to a
pupil or a novice. But worst of all by far is that lack of artistic
sensibility, general in modern India, which is satisfied by the tricks
of virtuosity and has no recognition of sincerity and deeper beauty.
In song the faults are obvious and regretted. High notes are screamed
out with the utmost effort of the singers’ lungs to the amazement and
admiration of the groundlings, while the practice of slurred arpeggios
at the highest speed obscures the roundness of the voice in the true
melody. Given a good voice, a girl is only too soon trained to these
efforts, on which in a few years her natural gifts are squandered.
Smooth and easy singing and finished phrasing are little valued by the
side of those difficult but unbeautiful accomplishments. Similarly in
the accompanying dance violent gestures, strained poses, or undue and
difficult effort ravish praise that should more correctly be given to
sincere emotion and an easy and natural rhythm. A dead conventionalism,
emphasized and over-strained by difficult contortions, has repressed
the development of the art, especially in the northern, more abstract


Another great drawback against which Indian professional dancing
struggles is the lack of a public that itself is given to dancing. For
every art the great safeguard and vivifying influence is a popular
practice of its easier forms. Music flourished in Italy and in Germany,
where every person sings. Poetry becomes great when behind it there
is a living growth of popular ballads or lyrics. The Russian ballet
has made its wonderful achievement because every peasant dances with
vigour and even with grace, and in the summer nights in every village
young men and women dance. In India popular dancing has for many
centuries been moribund, even dead. At the festival of the new Hindu
year, in a few parts of India, groups of ladies sing songs in unison
as they circle to a slow measure or rhythmic step. Occasionally in the
_zanánas_ of the richer families the ladies dance what is known as a
Rásada. Each catches her neighbours’ hands and they move round and
round in a circle bowing, slow in the beginning and faster to the end.
These are the palace dances, now almost disused, of which can be read
in Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation of the Chaurapanchasika.--

  “Yet now, this but abides, to picture smoothly
  How in the palace-dance foremost she paced:
  Her glancing feet and light limbs swayed demurely
  Moon-like, amid their cloudy robes; moon-faced,
  With hips majestic under slender waist,
  And hair with gold and blooms braided and laced.”

In villages among the lower classes there is also at stated seasons
some rustic dancing, even with men, of a rough and boisterous kind.
But generally speaking, popular dancing there is none. “No one dances
unless he is drunk,” the Indian gentlemen might mutter with the too
grave Roman.

Still, granting these deficiencies of environment and allowing for
all imperfections and desired improvements, dancing remains the most
living and developed of existing Indian arts. In the Peninsular school
above all, India has a possession of very real merit, on which no
appreciation or encouragement can be thrown away. It is something
of which the country can well be proud, almost the only thing left,
perhaps, in the general death-like slumber of all imaginative work,
which still has a true emotional response and value. It sends its call
to a people’s soul; it is alive and forceful.

All the more tragic is it, a very tragedy of irony, that the dance--the
one really Indian art that remains--has been, by some curious
perversion of reasoning, made the special object of attack by an
advanced and reforming section of Indian publicists. They have chosen
to do so on the score of morality--not that they allege the songs and
dances to be immoral, if such these could be, but that they say the
dancers are. Of the dances themselves no such allegation could, even by
the wildest imagination, possibly be made. The songs are pure beside
the ordinary verses of a comic opera, not to mention a music-hall in
the capital of European civilization, Paris. The dancing is graceful
and decorous, carefully draped and restrained. But the dancers, it is
true, do not as a rule preserve that strict code of chastity which
is exacted from the marrying woman. How the stringency or laxity
of observance of this code by a performer can possibly affect the
emotional and even national value of her art and performance has not
been and cannot be explained. Art cannot be smirched by the sins of its
followers; the flaws in the crystal goblet do not hurt the flavour of
the wine.

In the Peninsula of India dancing and professional singing is first of
all a religious institution, bound up with the worship of the Gods. To
every temple of importance are attached bands of six, eight, or more
girls, paid in free gifts of land or in money for the duties which they
perform. They are recruited in infancy from various castes and wear
the ordinary garments, slightly more ornamental, of the Indian lady of
those regions. In certain castes the profession is hereditary, mother
bringing up daughter in turn to these family accomplishments. In other
cases, as in the great temple of Jejuri in the Deccan, children are
dedicated by their parents to the service of God and left when they
reach a riper age to the teaching and superintendence of the priests.
Twice a day, morning and evening, they sing and dance within the temple
to the greater glory of God; and at all the great public ceremonies and
festivals they play their part in the solemnities. Teaching is imparted
by older men, themselves singers, who take in hand the training of
small groups of girls. In some cases a form of marriage is performed,
for the fulfilment of traditional religious obligation, with a man
of the dancer’s caste, with an idol, or even with a sacred tree. But
the ceremony entails no ethical obligations, such as apply to the
real married woman. The dancers are regarded, being independent and
self-supporting, as freed from the code which applies to women living
in family homes and maintained by the work and earnings of a father
or a husband. It is their right to live their lives as they will,
for their own pleasure and happiness, unrestrained by any code more
stringent than that of an independent man.


Besides Tanjore, the old Portuguese possession of Goa and the
neighbouring districts bordering on the ocean, where the forests and
rocks of the Western Ghauts drop sharply to the rice-lands of the
shore, are famous for the excellence of their singers. Here they are
known under the name of Naikins or “Ladyships,” and have a position of
no little respect. Though they like to trace their origin in their own
sayings to those nymphs who in heaven are said to entertain the Gods,
the truth is that they are largely recruited from other classes, whose
children they purchase or adopt. They live in houses like those of
the better-class Hindus, with broad verandahs and large court-yards,
in which grows a plant or two of the sacred sweet basil. Their homes
are furnished in the plain style of the Hindu householder, with mats
and stools and wooden benches and an abundance of copper and brass
pots and pans and water vessels. Only they wear a profusion of gold
ornaments on head and wrists and fingers, a silver waist-band, and
silver rings on their toes, and they make their hair gay with flowers.
Their lives are simple and not luxurious; but the days are idled away
in the languorous ease of the tropic sea breezes, a land of repose, a
lazy land. They rise late, they bathe, they eat rice-gruel, and talk
and sleep. The long afternoon is passed in more chatting and in their
constant enjoyment of chewing betel leaves, till after dinner they go
out to sing and dance to a late hour of the night. It is a life of
quiet ease, uneventful, indolent no doubt, but hardly dissipated. And
of course in all worship and religious observance they are devout and
orthodox, fearing the Gods, and reverent to the officiating priesthood.

Now when some Hindu reformers object to the employment of such women in
the temples of God and deny the efficacy of song and dance as adjuncts
of religious emotion, it would of course be impertinence for the
follower of another creed to express an opinion. The rubrics of prayer
are between the worshipper alone and his God. If they preach that
worship and oblation are for those only who have made asceticism their
practice and who have turned their faces from the world to the pure
concept of divinity, they are obviously within their rights: and the
question must be decided by a congregation of fellow-worshippers. Even
if they desire to bar the temple-door to women, who have taken no vow
of chastity and hope for salvation without closing their ears to love,
they are entitled to do as they like with their own, if they can obtain
a consensus of believers. Observers of other creeds would willingly,
if without impropriety they could have a voice, join in deploring the
abuse, in some temples, of the custom of dedication; for girls thus
dedicated, as at Jejuri, are often too numerous for the purposes of
the temple-service and are thrown upon the world, without adequate
artistic training, almost, one might say, with none, to make their
way as best they can. When this happens, though Hindu society treats
the devotees kindly and gives them easy admission to good houses, yet
their dearth of artistic accomplishment, the refusal of support by the
temple to which they are ascribed, and the pressing needs of sustenance
must often force the unfortunate girl to a distasteful trade. But to
include these among dancing girls in the proper sense is hardly fair.
The motives of dedication are different and are exclusively religious,
while the custom has arisen from the old Hindu tradition of appointing
a girl to take the place of a son. The trained singer who succeeds to
an appointment in a temple is in a very different position, and her
life is as a rule happy and prosperous. The example of other countries
has shown how an art may gain by the support of a Church, and how, in
the absence of countervailing circumstances of popular understanding
and enthusiasm, the withdrawal of ecclesiastical patronage may
cause its decline and even its ruin. The Reformation in Europe,
for instance, whatever its benefits to a new growing world in other
matters, swept without doubt like a devastation over the rich fields of
human imagination and like a tempest obliterated the aesthetic emotions
in which the human soul attains its highest. In India, in the absence
of a humanism such as Europe could imbibe from Athens, the dependence
of art upon religion is more strait and isolated, while the very forms
of Indian art are moulded in a supernatural conception of the universe.
So subtly poised is it upon this pinnacle, that the mere touch of the
freethinker and reformer, one fears, may send it shattered to the

In the North, it has been said, the dancing girls have no connection
with religious institutions, though, as it happens, their artistic
conventions are more abstract and less sensuous. Mostly they are
Mussulmans by belief or are Hindus who have adopted Mussulman ways and
manners. They do not belong to colleges or groups but live alone and
independently, earning their living by their art, without support from
any temple. At the same time it is the custom in many parts to invite
them to perform at the shrine of some dead saint during the annual
celebrations. They sing on such occasions songs of a sacred kind,
psalmodies of praise to God and His Prophet, poems well known in the
Urdu language. They chant also the odes of the Sufis or Persian mystic
poets, in which the adoration of the Deity is clothed in the language
of love, and the praises of wine are metaphors for the ecstasies of
the Spirit. Usually the dancing girl lives alone in her own house, some
balconied and flat-roofed house in the crowded bazaar, where she can
overlook the movement of the town and mark the doings of her world.
There is little that escapes her prying eyes, and the musicians in her
pay, the barber who lives in the street and the seller of betel leaves
keep her posted in all the city scandals. There is constant coming and
going to her doors, and in the afternoon admirers from the younger
nobility and professional men drop in to pass the time and smoke
and laugh a few hours away. Sometimes her house becomes a centre of
intrigue where palace revolutions or doubtful conspiracies are hatched
under her friendly eye by young men, who lounge on her cushions beside
the trellised window. The room is heavy with the sweet, over-perfumed
smoke of the black tobacco paste which she smokes in her silver-mounted
hookah. When she drives out at evening, police-constables salute her.
In most Native States such dancing girls, two or three or four, are an
appanage of the royal retinue, and are paid salaries or retaining fees
on a generous basis. Such a girl will ordinarily get one hundred to
one hundred and fifty rupees per month from the State--the salary of a
Police Magistrate--with gifts on special occasions. In exchange she has
to sing twice or thrice a week when the chief calls for her, but with
his permission she may always perform at other houses where she can
earn larger fees. Some chiefs are famous for their taste, and a girl
tries to secure an engagement for a year or two in such a Darbar to
establish her reputation for the future. In many cases these dancers,
as they grow older, marry one of their lovers and settle down to the
quiet life of the respectable Mussulman lady behind the _purdah_.
Sometimes they adopt a clever and pretty girl and train her, half as
maid and half as companion, in the mysteries of their art, till she in
turn becomes a singer and helps to keep her mistress and teacher, with
no little piety and charity, in her old age.

Modern opponents of dancing, however, with their influence on a
population which has few artistic tastes and a marked bent for economy,
have already done much to degrade the profession and are gradually
forcing girls, who would formerly have earned a decent competence
with independence and an artist’s pride, into a shameful traffic from
very want. Day by day the number of those women is growing less who
alone preserve the memory of a fine Indian art. And, as they lose the
independence earned by a profession, day by day more women are being
thrust into the abysmal shame and destitution of degraded womanhood.
An Indian proverb already sums up this peculiar item of the “reform
programme” thus: “The dancing girl was formerly fed with good food in
the temple; now she turns somersaults for a beggar’s rice.”

But, for the delineation of Indian life and society, the position of
the dancing girl must be envisaged from a loftier altitude. It is only
from such an aspect that her portrait can be said to complete and
interpret the gallery of Indian womanhood.

In the long history of human development occasional licence appears as
necessary to mankind as the habitual routine of morality. Convention
and self-restraint have been accepted and adopted for mutual
convenience; but, by an impulse as natural as it is healthy, man has
from time to time escaped from his stagnation through the orgy. Even
the savage, with his underfed body and atrophied sensibilities, finds
a periodic outlet for the starveling powers and ambitions hidden in
his breast by some spring or autumn festival at which, by one wild
orgy, he overleaps the fears and trammels of magical prescription and
intoxicates himself, for a brief space, into a freer manhood. When
savagery ends and barbarism begins, the orgy becomes something of an
institution, as it did in the Christian Church of the Middle Ages or
in the Holi of India. But as civilization grows more refined, it is
for the spirit rather than the body that the outburst into freedom is
demanded. In a cultured community it is a sort of cerebral licence
which is excited and assuaged by the orgies of the imagination. The
theatre and music, painting and poetry by their stimulation purge the
soul of those emotions which, unrelieved, would sour and make ill the
spirit. In a state where man is bound hand and foot to a mechanical
routine of wage-earning, he must seek through the excitement of his
imagination that explosion of emotion followed by quiescence, by
which the fermenting activities of his mind and body can alone find
their needed relief. Among the agents that rouse this excitement and
in turn satisfy it are to be ranked high the rhythm and music of
the dance, with the spectacle of graceful limbs and pretty faces, of
dresses such as are seen in dreams and jewelry rich beyond phantasy.
Every man at some time in his life has woven his fairy tales of hope,
and there is none so dull but has pictured a goddess to his fancy. Now
the woman who toils in his house and shares his interests may be ever
so tenderly loved and cared for, but she is his own help-mate, of his
own sturdy flesh and blood. Hardly--except perhaps for a space in the
first blossoming of new love--can he clothe her familiar being with the
robes and colours of his dreaming fancies. But in the trained actress
with her artful graces and her aloofness, he sees one who responds to
those secret aspirations, and gives them room to expand and calms and
soothes them, till at last, the spectacle ended, and his mind reposed,
he returns to his home in peace for the further routine of workaday

Now where life is free and unrestricted, among the powerful and the
leisured, every hour has its variety and desire may be satisfied
without awaiting any special occasion. But when existence is narrowed
to routine and one day is like another, then indeed the soul must
sometimes soar to an illusion of wild wind-driven liberty. Man has to
guide his plough in the furrow; but not to look to the sky and its
currents at the turning!--better death at once than such weariness. And
it is the finer creative spirits, the men that think and produce, who
are quickest crushed by the unbroken rule of abstinence. In India the
general tone is brown, the light grey-brown of dusty plains and dry
fields and villages of sun-baked mud. The ritual of to-day is that of
yesterday, and will be that of to-morrow. The same prayers, the same
labours, the same plain food, the same simple house and furnishings.
Simplicity, abstinence, repression, the rejection of all that is
superfluous, these are the notes of ordinary life. There is contentment
enough as a rule. The wife is faithful and devoted, the children play
and grow up and get married, the cattle pull the plough and the soil
bears the corn. It produces on the whole a contented resignation,
this life, with its austere simplicities and its overhanging haze of
asceticism. But even then there are times when the self will out and
the lulled nerves begin to stir and tingle and stab with a bitter pain.
There is no social life as in France and upper-class England, where
ladies of wit and reading, graceful, well-dressed, trained to charm
and please, quicken the minds and respond to the sympathies of a wider
circle, while at the same time imposing a fine code of manners and
a tactful moderation. The wife, devoted and affectionate as she is,
must usually be first the _house-wife_, busied with a narrow routine,
limited in experience, bounded by babies and the day’s dinner. In most
classes she is illiterate and she has few of the accomplishments which
amuse and distract. Even in Athens, the city above all of urbanity,
as the married woman was secluded and domestic like the Indian, the
female _comrade_, the _hetaira_, with her witty talk and her song and
accomplishments was a necessity of social life. In old India also this
need was known, as can be read in the traditional poetic histories, and
the dancing girl, the _gunika_ as they called her, was the recognized
teacher to young princes of manners and of chivalry. Those days are
past; but even now the dancing girls, by the admission even of a
missionary,[1] “are the most accomplished women among the Hindus. They
read, write, sing and play as well as dance.” They dress well and
modestly, they know the arts of pleasing, and their success is in the
main due to the contrast by which they transcend the ordinary woman
and to the illusions they can give. They do not, therefore, merely
fulfil a need but also represent an ideal. Even apart from their art
and its high imaginative value, as almost the only living art in India,
they respond in a larger sense to a real need of society. To stifle
a class of women, living their own lives in independence, graceful,
accomplished, often clever, to degrade them, to make them outcastes and
force them into shameful by-ways, is not merely to sin against charity;
it is also a blunder against life.

    [1] The Rev. M. Phillips, “Evolution of Hinduism,” 1903.

[Illustration: NAIKIN IN KANARA]

The existence of such a class, regarded in the light of ultimate
truths, may fall far short of the perfect state. But the remedy in
any country lies not in their repression and degradation, the most
disastrous of all attempts. It lies in the freedom and education of
the married woman. When the married woman also is freed from the
oppression of narrow codes and the dull monotony of house-work, when
she too is able to be accomplished and graceful, witty and artistic,
free to choose as she pleases and to be true to her nature, then no
doubt the professional beauty must by the mere weight of facts become
extinct. But what nation, what society will risk the experiment? and
what conditions can make it possible? This at least is clear that
where a rigid matrimonial system, supported by all the sanctions of
religion and inspired by a tradition of asceticism, is fast entrenched
and fortified, where woman is limited and narrowed to the duties of a
housekeeper or a mother, there the fulfilment of the deeper cravings
of human emotion and the satisfaction of artistic sensibilities will
depend upon a class that has in it much which is not ignoble.

Woman’s Dress

    “Upon my right hand did stand the Queen in a vesture of gold
    wrought about in divers colours.”

                                                    _Psalm XLV._

[Illustration: GIPSY WOMAN]

Chapter VIII


Dress in India can be comprised within a few typical forms. Fashion,
which in Europe is so frequently variable and occupies itself with
line and contour, is in India far more stable and persistent. Fashion
exists, of course, as in every land where women live and grow and
change. But it busies itself rather with what may be called the
accidents than with the essentials of attire. In the choice of colour
the women of India display a rich variety; and selection, though less
subject to sudden and violent alteration, is governed by those moods of
temperament which are generalized under the name of fashion. No less
operative is changing temperament upon the designs of jewelry and the
choice of gems to set in gold. Even in respect of the textures which
women choose for their clothes, there are collective changes of mood
and mode to be noticed. But in point of dress and adornment, as in most
other activities, in India there is a governance by authority and a
quasi-religious sanction which is foreign to the strongly individualist
tempers of the West. The shapes and to some extent even the colour of
dress and the design and manner of wearing jewelry are among those
distinctive marks of social rank and ceremonial purity, in a word of
caste, which are guarded jealously as if almost sacrosanct. It is only
in the additions and embellishments permitted upon the normal habits
of the caste that the human personality finds room for self-display. A
woman must first of all make her dress conform to the approved habits
of her class. That done, she is free to express her own tastes and
talents within the range of such permissible colours and superfluous
ornaments as do not alter the essential lines of her costume.

The interest of dress centres mainly upon the human psychology of
which it is one among many other expressions. And it is not a little
surprising that this inner and living bond has so often escaped the
writers who have made costume their subject. Dress, regarded as form
and colour only, has no doubt its own value to the painter. Like
every arrangement in which selected hues or lines are grouped for the
creation of a new beauty, it has an emotional appeal apart from its
meaning or history. The uses of drapery in sculpture and the sensuous
pleasure given by rich velvets and gold brocades in the paintings of
Titian or Veronese are instances of the fascination of clothes, merely
on their decorative side. But an intenser interest comes to being when
dress is known to be also the expression of a character that in one
sense may be called individual but may with more reality be regarded as
part of a vast national life.

For by its very nature dress is a means selected to heighten the
attraction of the sexes for each other. The use of clothes as a
protection against the extremes of climate is merely secondary and is
even something of a reproach to natural adaptation. It is as adornment,
and in its purpose of attraction, that it has its real and ultimate
meaning. That dress comes to be used incidentally to preserve modesty
does not affect its primary purpose. Modesty itself is one of the
secondary properties of love and one of its most powerful weapons. But
it is when mankind becomes sophisticated that the value and function of
modesty are properly understood; and it is then that dress and ornament
are so designed as to combine their direct and, under the guise of
modesty, their indirect attractions. It follows, therefore, that in any
people the use of the means of attraction which are supplied by dress
and jewelry must correspond to the attributes of the persons whom it is
desired to attract. If the dress did not conform to some inbred desire
in those who see it, it could have no power to please; even it might
become repellent. But similarity of birth and training tends to mould
the majority of each nation to something of an average, and it is after
all as a response to the desires of the average person that dress is
designed. It responds, therefore, to the psychology of the people in
which it is found.

Looked at from this aspect, the fundamental difference between the
costumes of European and of Indian women becomes at once more deeply
significant. In Europe, during the long centuries that have succeeded
the fall of Rome, one quality above all has clung to dress, that
is, _bizarrerie_ of form. The Teutonic barbarians who uprooted the
Mediterranean civilizations and imposed in their place those tribal
feudalisms and customary rules from which Europe is not yet fully
freed, seem whether from their primitive particularism or their
inborn brutality to have largely been lacking in the sense of form.
Symmetry and simplicity were conceptions beyond their northern brains
and outside their temperament. Even to this day the German (who
with least admixture of blood or education represents the primeval
Teutonic savage) is hardly able by any effort of reason to comprehend
the meaning of these words. In essence, it would seem, his mind is
formless, vague, amorphous. So in their buildings, the Goths could
find no use for purity of form. What they sought always and with a
great effectiveness achieved was a shape, or rather a conglomeration of
shapes, complicated and exaggerated, with lengthy spires and cumbrous
altitudes, that should be curious, awful, and _bizarre_. They never
sought to soothe the mind. Their churches do not so much attract
attention, but capture it, as it were, by an audacious ravishment.
And as this purpose was congenial to their own psychology, so did
they win their effect among their own and kindred peoples. Similarly
their women, if they were to excite the desires of men habituated to
bloodshed and the strong stress of war, had to take their attention by
storm, with the aid of the fantastic and unexpected in their costume.
Without the subtlety of imagination and finesse to excel by a fine
harmony or a graceful nicety, they were forced upon the extravagant
and exuberant. The lines of their dress were not designed to be
congruous with the human body or to agree in beautiful drapery, but
were meant rather to amaze the onlooker by a sudden onslaught upon his
vision. At any cost they were to be effective--to produce, that is, an
immediate effect by the strangeness and extravagance of their form.
In regard to colour they had less invention and hardly any taste; and
the grey skies of the north are not suited to the richer hues. So it
was to contortions of line and form that they had recourse. However
mitigated, these are characteristics that remain to this day. Even
in modern dress, the lines tend to be abrupt and exaggerated, and an
ever-changing fashion varies them in a discordant manner. Every ten
years, it has been said, the shape of womankind, as it is visible,
changes in Europe. Each new change means, of course, an attempt to
capture attention by a novel attitude. This is the cause that, out of
the whole nineteenth century, it was only for a few years under the
Consulate and early Empire that woman’s dress appears tolerable to an
artist’s eye or even, upon reflection, to the common man or woman.

[Illustration: A GURKHA’S WIFE]

Indian dress, on the other hand, has this in common with the
classic style, that it is simple in form and harmonious. It exacts
no distortions or deformities. It veils the body but it does not
misrepresent it. Still less does it attempt to substitute a fictitious
for a natural line. But while the Indian mind, like that of the
classic Mediterranean peoples, approves a natural simplicity of design,
unlike the other, it delights in a profusion of extraneous ornament.
Even the monstrous temples of the South are in essence simply planned,
but they are overlaid and even overloaded with masses of strange
carving and decoration. Indian psychology, in this not dissimilar from
the Teuton, has a craving for the wonderful and _bizarre_. The people
are of those that look for miracles. But, by a fortunate dispensation,
they are content to leave the pure lines of form undisturbed--a quality
that keeps them in regard to the broad facts of life true to nature.
For their wayward fancies they find scope in _bizarrerie_ of colour and
external decoration. Thus the Indian woman wears dresses that in shape
are easy and simple and beautiful, but she seeks further to attract by
a marvellous variety of colour and a curious adornment.


The limits of the _bizarre_ as it appears in India are probably reached
in the dress of the _Banjara_ women. They belong to a tribe that,
far from unmixed, has in it much of that gipsy race, which has also
migrated across the Sind deserts and Asia Minor to the furthest corners
of Europe. For centuries they were the carriers of India, transporting
salt and opium and grain on their pack-cattle along the trade-routes
across the continent. They have settled down now, some of them, in
little settlements where, under their own chieftains, they till the
soil and deal in cows and buffaloes. But many of them are wanderers to
this day, daring smugglers, dangerous when they are cornered, often
even thieves and robbers. The men are especially handsome, with a free
and fiery look, and a manly air. But the women also are not by any
means unattractive, and the striking dress they have chosen, with its
bold colours and its swinging skirt, sets them up well and handsomely.
The pity is that they will wear it till from age and dirt it drops off
with its own corruption. The bright colours they affect reach their
limit in the pleated skirt with its glaring reds and yellows, a motley
that has in it something of the clown or mountebank. The bodice in
no real sense fulfils its part but is rather a bright-decked screen
dropping from the neck to just below the waist-line, stiffened with
pieces of glass and thick stitching. The mantle which they adopt,
unlike that of most Hindu women, is short, like that of the Mussulman,
but coarser. Their jewelry is peculiar to themselves, and in shape
strange and striking. It is worn about the head in great profusion, so
that the twinkling cunning face seems almost set in silver. The hair
has two pleats at each side into which tassel-like ornaments of silver
are hung. But most _bizarre_ of all is the horn or stick, twined into
their hair, which rests upon the head and props up their mantle like a
tent. Originally perhaps designed to give the head a better protection
against the eastern sun, it has now acquired a religious significance
and is never doffed, even at night in bed, except by a widow. That
with this inconvenient attachment, they still can balance by its nice
adjustment heavy pots of water on their heads is one of the minor
wonders of the Indian country-side. The Banjara encampment with its
boldly-clad and boldly-staring women, also it may be added with its
strong fierce dogs of special breed, is a sight too picturesque ever to
be forgotten, especially in a country where life tends in the villages
to a brown monotone.

The _bizarre_ is again to be found prevailing even over form on the
Mongolian borderland of Northern India. In Nepal, whence come the brave
Gurkha soldiers of our wars, dress, like the shape and decoration of
the wooden temples of the people, has in it something alien to the
normal lines of Aryan and Indian womanhood. And the strangeness is
heightened by the quaintness of the jewelry and the uncut turquoises in
which they delight.

But in most of India proper the essence of dress is simple. Shoes are
not in general worn, though loose wide slippers of velvet or of leather
may be sometimes seen. The natural result is that the foot retains
a beauty which can never be expected when it is cramped by constant
pressure. The working woman, tramping miles along the roads or over
fields, with heavy burdens on her head or her child upon the hip,
loses of course too quickly the springing instep and sinks to a flat
and sprawling foot. But in the higher classes, or among the womanhood
whom caste preserves in a moderate seclusion, the foot is small,
well-curved, and light. It is a thing of infinite fascination, tinted
perhaps with the henna’s pink, almost like a flower. Even aged women
there are to be seen, their faces worn and wrinkled, who still have the
unspoilt feet of youth and well-born blood. Among the richer ladies of
the greater cities, where it is smart to be “advanced,” Parisian shoes
and silken stockings are nowadays worn, at least out of doors--a habit
enforced by the security thus gained against plague infection; but the
greater number still preserves the foot free and beautiful.

For the rest, among Hindu women the dress consists of three portions
only, never more, though they may be only two. These are a skirt,
a bodice, and a mantle. The skirt is not very different from the
petticoat of Europe in cut, but may either drop simply or be made up in
accordion pleats, something as a kilt is pleated, so cut as to stand
out a considerable way at the ankle. The latter shape, worn mainly by
the women of Márwár, but in painting invariably given to Rádha and the
loves of the god Krishna, is most beautiful with its brush and swing.
The skirt is fastened plainly by a silken cord tied fast at the waist
and is sometimes girdled by a silver belt. The Indian bodice again is
designed in the main to support the breast whose form it defines and
even, by its pattern, accentuates. It may either fit all round the
person, fastening in front by buttons or a ribbon, or be a covering for
the chest only, put on from the front and tied across the open back by
two tapes. But the most distinctive feature of all is certainly the
glorious drapery of the _sari_, which has been translated “mantle”
in default of a better word. The _sari_ is an article of dress as
distinctive as the Spanish mantilla and as difficult to wear with
the right charm and manner. It is an oblong of material, hemmed when
possible at one side with gold embroidery and edged with a sort of
closed fringe. When, as is most common, it is worn with a skirt,
its length is about fifteen feet and its breadth about three. When,
however, as in a contrasting style, it has by its intricacies to take
the place of an absent skirt as well, it measures some twenty-five feet
in length. It is to these mantles that the Indian lady devotes her
deftest thoughts and on them, within the limits conceded by caste and
fashion, that she displays her personal tastes. Their hues and patterns
have an infinite range. Some are in plain natural colours, white or
red or blue--solid, unbroken colour, not least beautiful in the stark
sunlight. Others are delicate cotton prints, flowered and sprigged and
dainty. Sometimes they are printed in a bold decorative pattern, formal
and conventional. Neutral and half tints at times mix in a bewildering
wealth of hue, till the eye is at a loss to know whether the ground
be green or pink or purple. The border may be a plain hem-stitch or a
two-inch broad piece of gold brocade, sumptuously woven in the acanthus
pattern or in the shape of birds and flowers. But in the draping of the
mantle, so simple in cut yet of such infinite variety, consists the
highest art and the true expression of personality. One end is taken
round the waist a couple of times and tucked into the waist-band at
the centre, falling to the feet in formal folds; the other passes over
head and shoulder, with the breadth decorated and displayed across the
upper half of the body. In the management of the upper half lies the
true secret. It must show the full beauty of the cloth, yet by a sort
of innocent accident, without a hint of ostentation. At the same time
it must be loose enough to allow graceful folds to drop naturally from
the head to the shoulders, and tight enough to sit close at the breast
whose curves it accentuates while it seems to veil. Enough but not
too much of the bodice must be shown with a fine nicety. The border
is at times allowed to turn carelessly up, till the gold armlet above
the elbow can be seen even on the covered right arm. At one moment, a
modest gesture brings the mantle across the face, as in shy courtesy
before an elder or an illustrious man; in a crowd it is draped to hide
both arms and conceal the figure; when it slips, it is quickly drawn
forward over the head with a charming pretence of timidity. The Márwári
woman by a trick peculiar to herself makes of her mantle a screen held
open between two fingers, through which only her lustrous eye appears,
melting and languorous; and in the armoury of every Indian woman the
mantle by its nice management is the chief instrument of love.

[Illustration: A WIDOW IN THE DECCAN]

The short mantle, worn as described, should of course imply a skirt.
But in the south of Gujarát, from Surat to Bombay, whether from the
steamy warmth of the climate or from some subtle change of mood,
ladies of the richer classes, while continuing to drape the mantle
in the same graceful way, have of late years given up the usage of a
skirt and wear at most a trim lace petticoat. The effect is not unlike
that of a recent ephemeral fashion in Western Europe. Seen in the bold
Indian sunlight, the double thicknesses of light silk or cotton are
little less transparent than a veil of gauze and limbs are revealed in
a shadowed fulness, which is less modest than it is suggestive.

In the Central plateau, however, and the south of India the skirt is
also dispensed with by a fashion that can claim at once antiquity
and respectability. There it is the long mantle, twenty-five feet in
length, which is worn. Of thick coarse silk and dark solid colour, it
is so draped as to be caught between the legs in a broad, low-hanging
fold, tucked loosely at the back. Its folds are carefully arranged to
leave a double thickness, marked by the border of the mantle, over
the upper part of the legs. It is a style inherited from a remote
antiquity, descendant from the dresses seen even on Buddhist carvings
in the great rock temples of the Deccan. Beautiful it can hardly be
called, with its effect of a divided skirt and its too clumsy folds
and thicknesses; but it is certainly not frivolous. Rather perhaps
should one say that it is eminently respectable, with its sameness
and stiff conventionality. The pressure of the ascetic ideal is shown
even more strongly in the monotonous colours, dark blue usually or
dark green, which are the ordinary wear in those parts of the country.
To the artist the costume, one would think, had little value; yet
that it can be idealized is seen from the effects achieved in the
simplifications of early sculpture. This contrast in dress between the
southern part of the Peninsula and Gujarát or Northern India reflects
once again that contrast in belief and character which has already,
perhaps with a too frequent repetition, been remarked. This monotony
of asceticism is even more noticeable in the south in the dress of
widows (poor creatures with shaven heads, their limbs untouched by a
single jewel!)--a dress of a mantle only, white or of a strange dull,
dingy red--a dress that kills all looks and attractions, save where the
light of religious duty, nature overcome, makes the starved face seem


In the dress of Mussulman women the main feature is that trousers are
substituted for the Hindu skirt. They may be wide and baggy, cut in
loose full curves from the hips to the tighter openings at the ankles,
a style not too precise to be devoid of all attraction. Or, as worn by
ladies of the Upper Indian aristocracy and by other women who lay claim
to Moghul descent, they may sit tight like gloves from ankle to knee, a
fashion at once ugly and repellent. It would be difficult, even after
long reflection, to design a style of dress so unbecoming to a woman’s
gait and figure, so crudely frank, so hideously unsuggestive. A bodice
may or may not be worn, as Hindu influence is more or less strong. A
long fine shirt, half open at the neck and falling to about the knee,
is an invariable article of dress, which on a young woman fits well and
gracefully. In former days, and even now among the older-fashioned,
a long full-pleated skirt and jacket in one was worn above the other
garments, fitting tight to below the breast, then from the high-set
waist-line spreading out in wide stiff pleats like a broad petticoat.
Over her head the Mussulman lady wears a shawl or mantilla, less long
than her Hindu sister’s mantle, which is made of the finest textures
and is dyed in the most delicate of colours. It is the full dress of
the Mussulman lady that, except in Southern India, the dancing girl has
made her own for professional uses and embellished with every device of
pattern and every richness of material.

It would be interesting to digress here, in relation to Indian dress,
upon that long conflict between the _decolleté_ and the _retroussé_,
which in Europe has from time to time been settled by the successes
of the former. But a full discussion would go beyond the purpose and
necessary limits of this book. Briefly it may be said that, in this
matter too, Indian dress quite correctly expresses the difference
which subsists between the present European and immemorial Indian
temperament. For, with reasonable exceptions, it may be said that in
India, on the whole, no special feelings, either of modesty or the
reverse, attach to the lower limbs. The skirt is, therefore, not the
hampering, stiff garment that it usually is in Europe. But the upper
half of the body, on the other hand, has a far greater significance
than in Western Europe. And this it is which has made the use of the
covering mantle or _sari_ the most distinctive feature of Indian

Dress even in its simplest form has been seen to have its sectarian
meaning and restrictions. A widow for instance, at least among orthodox
Brahmans in the Peninsula, is limited to certain solid colours,
never black or dark blue, red as a rule, or white. And every woman
is restricted to definite shapes and cut. To transgress beyond these
limits would be to offend against caste rules with a sanctity defended
and sanctioned by a caste tribunal. But greater significance attaches
to the use of jewelry. Some stones are valued for this or that magical
virtue; certain metals can or must be used only at definite times and
places: some shapes of ornament are bidden or forbidden to a certain
caste. The prohibition against wearing gold upon the feet is the most
obvious instance. Here a value of a magical kind, as a purifying agent,
is ascribed to the metal, and its use was not allowed on limbs where it
might be contaminated by the dust and dirt of the road. Only in royal
families is the prescription ever disregarded; and even then only by

Of forms and modes of ornament peculiar to one caste and partly at
least sanctified by superstition, something has already been said in
describing the fisher and the gipsy women. But instances might be
multiplied without end. Each section nearly of the community has at
least one peculiar jewel, associated with a religious festival or a
caste ceremony or belief. Perhaps the most obvious examples are the
charms and talismans freely worn by all classes of Mussulman women.
In these the stones and their settings are the symbolic expressions
of deep and mysterious thoughts and the instruments of a magical
significance. On amulets of white jade or carnelian are inscribed
in Arabic characters the highest names of the Most High. On other
cartouches are engraved the sacred symbols of the Jewish Cabbalists,
just as Hindus draw and venerate that sign of the Swastika which from
the time of the Bronze Age has presented the beneficent motions of
the sun. They have little boxes of chased gold in which are enclosed
written charms to protect the wearer from the malice of jinns and the
malevolence of the evil eye. On heart-shaped plates of silver they cut
the sacred hand which persists in the escutcheon of Ulster baronets,
and on others are inscribed the name of “Tileth” and the injunction,
“Adam and Eve away from here.”

But the use of jewelry has a religious tinge no less among Hindus. It
is for instance a common belief that at least a speck of gold must be
worn upon the person to ensure ceremonial purity. Thus in Northern
India there are castes where married women wear plates of gold on some
of the front teeth; while it is general when preparing the dead for
the burning to attach a gold coin or ring to the corpse. Moreover, the
wearing of jewelry by women is prescribed by the sacred text which
says: “A wife being gaily adorned, her whole house is embellished, but
if she be destitute of ornaments, all will be deprived of decoration.”
This again is one reason why there is so little change in the design.
Variety there is, and indeed the number of ornaments, each with a
different name and use, is almost bewildering. But in each kind the
design passes from one to another generation almost unchanged, and
the craftsman has no need to devise new forms and varying settings.
What has been worn by the grandmother will be equally pleasing to the
grand-daughter. When there is change and variety, it is only in the
large commercial cities, where European patterns are being exploited to
the ruin of indigenous craftsmanship.

The bracelet is the most significant and the nose-ring the most
peculiar of Indian ornaments. For bracelets are above all the visible
sign of marriage. Young girls before their wedding may wear bangles of
many kinds: but the first act of widowhood is to discard them all. Some
which are made of lac are peculiar to the married woman, and next to
them in significance are the bangles of variegated glass which are so
much appreciated. On the husband’s death these are at once shattered;
and the same breaking of bangles is the accompaniment of divorce. The
nose-ring, as it is called in English, is only seldom in shape a ring.
In Northern India indeed, in certain castes, a real ring of large
diameter passes through the cartilage; and its effect is not beautiful.
But in most places and classes, it is not so much a ring as a small
cluster of gems affixed by one means or another to the nostril. That
worn most commonly in the Deccan--a sort of brooch with a large almost
triangular setting--is also clumsy and unbeautiful. Another type, worn
by the cultivators of Gujarát, is like a button in which the jewelled
top screws, through a hole bored in the nostril, into the lower half--a
form no less ungainly. But Mussulmans adopt a different and more
graceful form. Through the central cartilage of the nose a small gold
wire passes on which drops a jewel, at its best a fine pear-shaped
pearl, dangling down to the central curve of the upper lip. But the
prettiest of all--a real aid this to a pretty face--is a small stud
of a single diamond or ruby fixed almost at the corner of the left
nostril. Here it has the value of a tiny beauty-spot, more attractive
by its sheen, and draws the eye to the curve of a finely-chiselled nose
and down to the petulant smiling lips.

Among the most beautiful of Indian ornaments are the _champlevé_
enamels made by Sikh workers who have found a home in the pink city
of Jaipur. In golden plaques they scrape little depressions which
they fill with oxides of various metals, fixed by the nicely-varied
temperature of fire. Gems also are worn in great profusion by the
richer classes, though little by those who have to regard their
ornaments also as an investment. To the poor of course the purchase
of silver or gold jewelry is still the only form of saving with which
they are familiar and in which they have confidence; and it is quite
impossible even to guess the millions of bullion hoarded unproductively
in this form in India. In regard to gems, many a superstitious belief
still remains. Thus it is believed that in an evil conjunction of the
sun the ruby is propitious, while the diamond is remedial against the
baleful influences of the moon. On the day of the week named after Mars
or War, the coral should be trusted, and the zircon is efficacious
against Mercury known as Buddha. The pearl is specially designed for
wear when Jupiter is dangerous. The cat’s eye deflects the radiances of
Venus and in the ascending node the emerald is sovereign. This lore of
gems is set out at length in the _Ruby-garland_ of Maharaja Surendra
Mohan Tagore.

The graceful dress and finely-designed jewelry of the Indian women is
a covering and an embellishment, suitable and, as a rule, singularly
attractive. But the person that is so covered receives no less care.
An almost scrupulous personal cleanliness is observed by nearly every
woman. Among the gipsy and criminal tribes indeed clothes are worn
until they drop off from age; and the untouchable castes who perform
the lowest menial services and cluster in sordid hovels outside the
village also leave much to be desired. In the crowded slums of the
industrial cities, too, it is to be feared, there are many, especially
of the professional beggars, who from vice or dulled apathy allow
themselves to become foul and loathsome. But even the worst of these
could perhaps be equalled in the mean streets of Europe. These degraded
classes once out of account, however, there is no question that the
niceties of personal cleanliness are followed in all ranks with a fine
devotion which can be equalled only in the upper class of Europe. In
some points they may put even those to shame though they cannot vie
with the modern luxury of the English or French lady’s bath, with its
sponges and gloves and powders and perfumed salts. Washing in India is
a religious ordinance, scrupulously observed, and the body is cleansed
with water and made smooth like bronze with orpiment and tinged with
henna and perfumed with the essence of flowers, till it is a mirror of
purity, worthy of adornment and respect.

The Moving Finger

  “A creed is a rod
  And a crown is of night,
  But this thing is God
  To be man with thy might,
  To grow straight in the strength of thy spirit and live out thy life
                                                          as the light.
  I bid you but _be_.
  I have need not of prayer;
  I have need of you free
  As your mouths of mine air,
  That my heart may be greater within me, beholding the fruits of me

                                                  _Hertha._ SWINBURNE.

Chapter IX


The aim of this book has been as far as possible to show the Indian
woman as she is, living and acting and expanding. But life, properly
speaking, cannot be represented. Representation must always be of
something that is already past and therefore lifeless and mechanical.
It breaks off and pins down, like a specimen in a museum, a mere
fragment out of the moving continuity of life. So a photograph for
instance, when it impresses a discontinuous moment on the plate, merely
fixes something which is artificial and unreal. Perhaps in literature
it would be impossible to give vitality to the picture of an Indian
woman, unless in the form of poetry or prose fiction. But the picture
would then be endowed with personal character and an individual shape.
Here it was desired rather to analyse national characteristics and to
display the varieties of Indian womanhood and their values. It was
necessary, therefore, to embody the typical rather than the personal
and to lose something of concrete reality in the effort to generalize
usual habits of mind and body. It is, however, true that neither man
nor woman can ever be so well known, as through the ideals which
they feel. In those ideals, in the spirit with which they meet the
incidents of life, consists all that is most real and permanent in
their actions. Other desires and emotions, peculiar to the individual,
which help to make his whole concrete life, are after all unharmonized
and, as it were, accidental. Essential are the thoughts which guide
his purposes and the social atmosphere in which he breathes. Regarded
in this way, the womanhood of India appears on the whole to be moving
in all its million lives towards a more or less similar ideal, more or
less clearly recognized as the social class rises or sinks in education
and self-consciousness. There are, of course, exceptions. The nobility
of Southern India form a social back-water, fed by other traditions
from a secluded source. There are wild tribes on whose crude minds the
common thought has hardly yet had time to become operative. And the
Mussulman population is, at least in name, ruled by an ethic far more
rationalistic and liberal. Yet there is not a class which in some form
or other, however indirectly, has not had to submit to the supremacy of
an ideal which in its purer lines is truly national. With the increased
ease of communication and the rigidity given to accepted Brahman
custom by the Courts of Law and common education, the movement towards
the same ideal throughout the various communities has become more
marked and rapid. Peculiarities of caste and race tend to be swamped
in the general current. In a few cases, new diversities have come
into existence, where, for instance, some of a small highly-educated
class have revolted against traditional restrictions or sought a new
salvation in the close imitation of European customs without a European
environment. It is in the comprehension of these ideals, manifested in
typical castes and classes, and of the social atmosphere that any real
image of Indian womanhood can alone be formed.

But it is not enough to see a woman in her girlhood and growth, in her
love and marriage, and in her relations to her family and society. To
grasp her as she really is she should be seen also as a mother. For if
love is a duty of womanhood, biologically the function of motherhood is
even more important. It is the most decisive of all her functions in a
primitive society. As the race advances, it does not lose its place,
but beside it ascend other functions, first and most essential that
of love or wifehood, and afterwards that of polishing and refining a
mixed society. In value to each life and each generation, the greatest
of these is certainly love; and the successful wife or mistress
ranks higher in art and literature and with the finer spirits and
civilizations than even the best of mothers. For the former implies
gifts which are not only rarer but also emanate from higher and nobler
qualities of mind, while it responds to needs which are felt above all
by loftier natures. Maternity, on the other hand, is the instinct of
reproduction in action, controlled by intelligent care and affection.
It is not peculiar to the human being but is as strong a force in
the animal. It is of course essential, like everything else that is
primeval in our life; for humanity is broad-based upon the animal. But
wifehood is a conception of the creative human intellect, a specialized
object of human feelings. The perfect beloved is an ideal form created
by a developed intellect and fastidious emotions.

Hence the worth of a nation’s womanhood can best be estimated by the
completeness with which they fulfil the inspirations of love and its
devotion. And judged by this standard, the higher types in India need
fear no comparison. Whenever race and belief have combined to resist
the mere negatives of ascetic teaching, there is a rich literature of
love, there is a mastery of rapture, and with it the constant service
of undying devotion.

Yet fully to estimate the value of her life, it would be necessary also
to watch the Indian woman in her performance of a mother’s functions.
The strength of her desire for children, the warmth and selflessness
of her affection, the extent of her care and teaching, her readiness
or unwillingness herself to learn the needs of childhood, above all,
the place in her heart that she affords her children--all these are
factors which should be not merely weighed or analyzed but actually
felt by a creature intuition. But only another woman could have such
comprehension or attain such intuition. No man--even in regard to the
women of his own country, where he is illuminated by the examples of
his mother and his wife--could have the needed sympathy, the necessary
similarity of feeling, to comprehend the woman’s emotions to the child
she bears and over whose growth she watches. It would be impossible to
attempt the task in a foreign country of women by whose side one has
not grown from infancy.

Some points, however, which lend themselves to any observation,
may be noted, all the more since they have not infrequently led to
misunderstanding. It is the case undoubtedly that every Indian woman,
whatever her rank or race, has a clamorous wish to bear children, above
all a son, for her husband’s sake. “How many children have you?” is
the first question every woman asks another. In order to get children
they go on pilgrimages and tolerate austerities, they give alms to
beggars and are deluded by impostors. A childless woman becomes only
too readily the butt of scorn and even of her own self-reproach. Not
to have borne a son is to the Indian woman to have missed her vocation
and have failed in life. She has a certainty of belief--“She knows”
she would say--that it is her function, even hers, to have children;
and if she be fruitful, she counts herself blessed. From these data,
it has often been inferred that Indian women in all classes have an
overpowering desire for motherhood and are especially mastered by the
maternal instinct. But that this inference is wholly just, may well be

In the upper classes at least it must be admitted that the woman wishes
for children because of reasoned and intelligible motives, and that
these motives are so strong as to overcome any instinctive passions.
And a will moved by a mere calculation of reason may be as powerful as
and even more effective than an act of will which, really responds to a
deep and eternal, unreasoned, self-creating emotion. The Indian woman
at any rate has every reason to desire to be a mother, above all the
mother of a son. Hindu science and philosophy have never hidden from
her that, regarded as a living being merely like any other animal, her
primary function is to continue the race. And religion has impressed
this teaching upon every mind by the legend that a man’s soul can be
released from the torments which follow death only by the prayers
and ritual of a living son. Moreover, she fears that barrenness may
impose the presence of a second wife, a rival in that love to which,
after all, she gives first place. Then, again, the end may prove to be
subjection to another woman’s son, heir to his mother’s hatreds. Or at
the best there is the pressure of religious faith--to think herself
accursed, if she has no child, while even her husband may in time
shrink from her as from a being judged by the doom of God. All these
are motives which can be weighed by the intellect but which move desire
and will-power. Yet their action does not in itself show that the
instinct of maternity is strong beyond the usual.

It is true of course that little girls in India in their games are
accustomed to play at being mothers and cook for imaginary children
and put their dolls to bed, and in a word play as girls do all over
the world. But so they play also at being wives and greeting their
husbands and bowing to a mother-in-law. When it is considered how
early they learn the secrets of life and how few their other games and
amusements can be, it is hardly astonishing that motherhood should
enter soon in their thoughts and pastimes. But the European child is
at least as ready to play with dolls and as fond of mothering her pets
with a mimicry to which her instincts call her. Where the European girl
differs is that marriage enters little into her thoughts and games,
love in any real sense hardly at all; whereas the Indian girl from
childhood has her mind filled with glad anticipations, and responds
to the name of marriage with a ready and not altogether unconscious
emotion. Even from the example of the child, then, the inference would
rather be that the instinct for love is quickly developed than that the
maternal instinct is stronger than in other peoples.

There are considerations of many kinds which go to show that the desire
for love is first in the Indian woman’s heart, at least in the higher
and better nurtured classes. In England for instance it is really now
the case--largely owing to the defects of a highly artificial education
and partly from the evils produced by bad economic conditions--that
there are quite a number of women who would desire to be mothers
but who actually look upon marriage and love as a distasteful and
unpleasant preliminary. Such a perversion of view, it can at once
be said, is unknown in India--not only unknown indeed, but even
inconceivable. Every woman may wish for a child, but she wishes first
and above all for the blessing of a loving husband, and she desires
the child mainly to satisfy and conciliate the man to whom she gives
herself joyfully.

Again it is striking that the whole long record of Indian literature
contains hardly one picture of a mother’s love, and is dumb even
about the longing at her heart for a child. Erotic poetry is full and
voluminous and the love of man and woman is sung in burning words in
thousands of lyrics, while it is also depicted with a more objective
grandeur in numerous epics. Hardly any European literature, at least
since Alexandria, can vie with this literature of love in volume and
intensity. But in the poetry of the West, mother’s love has had its
honoured place. In the letters of India it is almost absent.

It is sometimes suggested in India, and it may perhaps be true, that
in the castes which allow divorce, a mother’s affection for her child
is a passion stronger than her love for her husband. It would indeed
sometimes seem in those classes that she would more readily choose to
sacrifice the father than the child. But it does not follow that the
cause lies in the freedom of divorce, even though it be a factor which
co-operates in the result. For in practice the Hindu castes which allow
divorce are almost all of the lower class--in some cases not much above
the savage, ignorant, of a slow sensibility, unstimulated by the arts
and luxuries of civilization. Their passions have not yet much refined
above the elemental. For that fine and ennobling love which is the
fruit of advanced culture they have not yet developed the capacity. But
the maternal instinct remains among them in all its primitive strength.
And it has not to divide its sovereignty with the emotions of a later
culture. Relatively its force is greater, because undivided.

But, it must be said, in no class does maternal affection arouse, as
it should, that persistent and laborious effort to tend and educate,
which is its worthiest criterion. The Indian mother is lavish with
her caresses and endearments, as in other moods she may fly into fits
of uncontrolled anger. But, except for the lengthy period of nursing,
sometimes three and ordinarily two years, to which she is willing
to devote herself, she shows only too little of that continuous and
intelligent care which is expected from a mother. Largely no doubt this
is due to ignorance. She has not--one might with justice say she is not
allowed to have--the knowledge which is needed to be a good mother.
She is unaware of the most elementary requirements of sanitation and
health. Worse still, she has not been trained to know the importance
of compelling good habits and regular discipline in early childhood.
Again, though she is usually an affectionate, she is not often an
inspiring, mother. She is probably at her best as she sees her children
fed with the food she has cooked herself, giving to each the tit-bits
that she can, looking lovingly to their comforts, herself waiting till
all are done before she sits down to her own meal. This is the memory
that lingers most closely in the Indian’s mind as the man grows older
and leans on retrospect. To most European children the remembrance that
is dearest is that of his mother stooping over his cot to kiss him
good-night, radiant in beauty, clad in silks and laces, with the gleam
of white shoulders and precious stones to set off the soft curves of
her dear face, before she leaves for a dinner, a theatre, or a ball.
He is proud of her looks, so transformed, and of her charm, proud that
he belongs to a being so splendid and so wonderful. But to the Indian
the picture that recurs is of ungrudging kindly service. And perhaps
the prolonged nursing period, bad as in other respects it is--bad
especially for the over-taxed mother--serves to draw closer the bond
between her and the child, already conscious of its own existence.
Certain it is that the Indian son, as he grows up, forbears ever to
judge his mother. Of Indian women generally, or of the mothers of
other men, he may complain for their ignorance and their disregard of
matters which he has taught himself to consider necessary; he may even
with some unfairness blame them for a want of steadfast purpose and
regularity, which is by no means peculiar to their sex. But for his own
mother he preserves a constant respect and loving solicitude.


Yet, all said and done, it is not in motherhood, but rather in her
love, that the Indian woman has reached her highest achievement.
The devotion and self-sacrifice which are hers form a triumph of
the spirit; and she clothes these virtues with sensuous charm and
transcendent ecstasy. She gives freely of herself with both hands, by
service and surrender, by wistfulness and delight.

It is in the quality of social charm that the Indian woman is most
often lacking. For the man she loves she can command every grace.
She can be coaxing, caressing, kind, gentle, tender, submissive,
all in one. Even to the stranger, alone in her family as guest or
dependent, she shows herself solicitous and kindly, with a pleasing
quiet charm that comes from the heart. But she has not the habit of
social entertainment or that special training, so much a matter of a
quickened intelligence, which is required to set general acquaintances
at ease or to lead a conversation which should be at once comprehensive
and light. She has no general coquetry and is often without that ease
of manner and unconstrained grace of movement in a crowded room,
which can hardly be acquired otherwise than by the habitual usage
of good society. This lapse from complete achievement marks itself
most strongly in the intonations of her voice. For it must, alack, be
admitted that the Indian woman’s voice is her weak point. Here are
few of those soft, round, low but clear mezzos and contraltos which
like bronze bells sound so deliciously in a European drawing-room. The
voice in India seems seldom to have that steady control and rounded
_timbre_ which is gained from the repression of strained and uneven
notes and the modulation of all tones to one easy key. The Indian girl
is not even taught to sing and knows nothing of voice production. What
little she does sing, untaught or worse than untaught, is more often
a scream than a real melody. Good voices are almost the monopoly of
the professional dancing girl. Hence even in ordinary conversation,
a lady’s speech tends to harsh and abrupt sounds, shrill and not
beautiful. Her intonation is only too often an antidote to the charms
of her fastidious neatness and her kindly eyes and smile.

Society, it must be said, and social converse had in India ceased
to exist some fifteen hundred years ago. It does not happen that a
company of men and women meet on easy terms for entertainment with
the pleasures of light and familiar conversation, not learned, never,
please heaven, didactic or instructive, but clever, witty, illumined
by intuitions and swift generalizations, light of touch, and near to
laughter. Nor is anything known of that innocent coquetry of well-bred
womanhood, which seeks no particular stimulations but appeals for a
general admiration, impersonally given to that fine spirited, finely
attractive being who is the last word in luxury and taste and womanly

In India as one knows it--whatever it may have been in the remoter age
pictured in the caves of Ajanta--the aspirations of women have taken
a different course through a more placid water. Where they steer is
no ebb and flow of conflicting purpose and sometimes, as they pass
listlessly to the shore, it looks almost as if the roadstead had come
to a stagnation. And yet--yet the course is set correctly and the sun
is rightly taken. It may be that the horizon is viewed too low and
that the profundities of the human spirit are not yet plumbed; but the
Indian woman crosses the waters of life on a line true to her nature
and her functions.

There is in all the Indian languages which derive from Sanscrit a word
whose habitual usage is significant of a whole attitude to life, by
whose meaning alone it is possible to understand the position sought
by and accorded to womanhood. It is the word “_dharma_” which has
been constantly mistranslated into English as “religion.” But when
an Indian speaks of “_dharma_” he means really the duties, divinely
imposed if you like or valid in nature, of his station. Between this
“_dharma_” and that, between the “_dharma_” of his own class or sex and
that of others, he draws a sharp distinction. In England, too, this
sense is not unknown and the great landlord, for instance, speaks with
right of the duties of his position, contrasting them with a broad
distinction to those of the merchant, for example, or the workman.
_Noblesse oblige_ is a proverb that has been applied in all countries.
But throughout Western thought there runs the idea that duty and morals
must at bottom be one and the same for all. It is only, one might say,
as a concession that the special duties of each station are recognized;
and at most they are referred rather to the accidentals of life, to
those supererogatory virtues which may be expected, like magnanimity
or liberality from the rich and powerful, or that exceptional patience
and humility which many persons seem to expect from the needy and
unfortunate. The basic more permanent rules of moral conduct are
regarded as something absolute, unalterable, unconditioned. Even the
differences of sex are forgotten in the abstract contemplation of fixed
moral laws. In practice, of course, facts have often compelled peoples
to admit that differences do exist in the application of rules of
conduct. Thus, to take a recent instance, in the crisis of war public
opinion has allowed that even the supreme duties of citizenship press
with divergent force upon married and unmarried men. Similarly it
was until recently recognized by all and is even now by the greatest
number that there are matters in which the conduct of men and women
cannot be the same and that the same rights and duties cannot be
applied indiscriminately to both sexes. But the recognition was seldom
more than tacit. It was never co-ordinated, at least in England, to a
reasoned view of life. It was not built upon a deliberate analysis of
natural differences in function and in sensory and nervous force. It
tended rather to be a mere concession to passing conditions of life.
Thought, when it was explicit, dwelt chiefly upon abstract ideas of
equality and equal duties. Some writers even tried to explain away
the differences of character between men and women by referring them
to mere accidents of environment, to women getting a less thorough
education, for instance, or less of a chance in life, as it was
called. It was not openly and clearly recognized that the natures and
functions of men and women were different in essentials, and that the
rules of conduct must in consequence be relative to different needs and


In India, the way in which “_dharma_” is understood has made such a
mistake impossible. From its implications it is believed by all, or has
until the last few years been believed, that duty must necessarily be
relative to function and must correspond with fitness to inner nature.
A distinction so obvious and primary as that of sex can in consequence
be ignored by none except a few recent abstract thinkers. The rights
and duties of women are defined in relation to the activities which are
imposed on them by the principles of their nature; and the ideal which
is painted is in harmony with the natural laws of flesh and spirit.
Modesty, self-sacrifice, tenderness, neatness, all that is delicate
and fastidious, those are qualities which have a natural propriety.
To play her modest part in the family household quietly, to sweeten
life within the radius of her influence, to serve her children, to
please the man to whom she is dedicated, to receive pleasure in her
love, and find happiness in the pleasures that she gives, that is a
woman’s “_dharma_”--her fitting performance of function. It is not, of
course, that Hinduism does not know that men and women are alike in
respect of certain faculties and both alike distinguished from other
living creatures. But it has laid more stress upon the differences
in function. It has been able to see that the being of each separate
man and woman is one and indivisible, and that sex is not a mere
distinction added or subtracted but rather the shape in which the
whole living, acting human creature is cast and moulded. This, which
is the teaching of India’s philosophies, is also the practical wisdom
of her peoples. And this it is which has kept Indian women so superbly
natural, so calmly insistent on their sex. In Northern Europe, it
may perhaps be said, the evolution of womanhood has more rapidly
progressed, in response to a quickly developing environment; but in as
far as it has rejected nature and inner law, it may the rather tend
to be in fact a _devolution_, a turn or twist _from_ the road and not
a progress. In India evolution has been slow, cramped by unnecessary
superstitions and arbitrary abstentions, but in its main lines at least
it is consistent and natural. Its form is not unsuitable; though it
still has to be filled with a larger and richer content.

But the content of life in India is in truth already being enriched.
Her women are no mere abstractions, fixed and immovable, to be
delineated by thin conventional lines. Rather must they be thought of
as a mass of concrete, distinguishable, living human beings, moving as
a whole towards a larger freedom. Only a century ago when the greatest
of German thinkers, Hegel, wrote his “Philosophy of History” he could
with no little truth say that “Indian culture had not attained to
a recognition of freedom and inner morality,” and could assert that
in the Indian soul there was “bound up an irrational imagination
which attaches the moral value and character of men to an infinity
of outward actions as empty in point of intellect as of feeling, and
sets aside all respect for the welfare of men and even makes a duty
of the cruellest and severest contravention of it.” Women of course
in all countries are far more conservative than men and are more
readily content to sink the needs of personality in a general level
of unruffled action. Yet even among the women of India a new spirit
of liberation from external limitations is becoming visible and an
aspiration to an excellence that shall be from within. In spite of
caste distinctions, in spite of the forced rigidity of the marriage
system, in spite of all the mental unrest and error of the educated
and the practical inertia of the unread, in spite of all this and much
more, it would now be far from true to say of them as a whole that they
are unconscious of inward freedom and inward law or are blind to the
needs of human welfare in the conditions of human life.

But this inner freedom and external amplitude need not be sought and
will not be gained in the imitation of foreign manners and customs.
Such imitation can never be anything but unnatural and inharmonious;
and the castes which have tried it have not succeeded in avoiding
evil consequences. A better way is to revert to the ancient ideals
which still inspire all that is good in later practice. Dark ages
of ignorance have pruned and pinched the older, freer spirit, by
superstitious and absurd asceticisms and misinterpreted authorities.
Only the ruling castes have enlarged themselves from the bondage by
their more virile audacities. In general even the primitive and natural
classes, as they raise their status and become reflective, succumb
to the same narrowing limitations and impose upon their womankind
disabilities which are external and mechanical but which they see
current in the higher Brahmanized classes. Yet in the older, nobler
days, the Indian women had a life larger by far and more rich in
fulfilment. To regain this, which after all is still a living ideal,
and to ennoble and enlarge it further through that Greek thought--that
inspiring humanity and breath of happiness--which is the life-giving
element of European science and civilization, that were indeed an
end worthy of a fine tradition. To cut away from the bonds of fears
and artificialities and non-human hopes and terrors and seek only to
_be_, wholly and fully, in the harmony of nature and function and
sane development, preserving the eternal virtues of womanhood, and
finely conscious of a proud tradition--by some such purpose surely
might it be possible to secure safe continuity and social health
while attaining a progressive and extended activity that should not
be alien or discordant. But the timidities of crude asceticism must
first be overcome. A generation must arise which can comprehend
that self-control is not abstention, far from it, but is found only
when, a free soul, governing itself by its own laws, seeks its own
satisfaction and the development of all its functions in its free
activities. To deny human nature, for any price however fanciful, is
more harmful by far than the “Fay ce que Voudras” of any Abbaye de


Of the narrow and incongruous privations with which the old ideals
were overlaid in the later decadence many still remain. Most cruel
and least defensible of all is the prejudice, common in all classes
except the highest and not unknown even there, against the enjoyment
of literature and art. Music is discountenanced, pictures are never
seen, even reading and writing is thought unwomanly. When not only the
charming likeness drawn of women in old books is remembered, but in
actual life also one sees the fine harmony achieved by those ladies,
Rajputs perhaps or Nágar Brahmans, who can recite and enjoy poetry
and even sing or play instruments--with what far greater happiness to
themselves and the men they love!--it should be plain how great is the
national loss wrought by this empty deprivation. Of all the European
countries, it is in France that women have most nearly attained that
final excellence which both accords with the true tradition of Western
life and is not out of harmony with their nature. There a sane and wise
worldliness has led to an incessant regard to neatness and careful
management, an avoidance of all that is wasteful or excessive. And
French life of course pivots upon a mixed society, easily mingling in
graceful and polished intercourse--an urbane fellowship in a human
_civitas_, a citizenship in whose enjoyment, it might almost seem,
lies the last test of civilization. Hence the French woman, for her
part, has trained herself or been trained to be the instrument of
a symphony of urbanity and well-bred fellowship, giving of her own
characteristic qualities to be an inspiration and a standard to the
creative art. Yet, with it all, she is emphatic of her sex. From the
highest to the lowest class, one may see her, neat, well dressed,
choice in adornment, lavish of love. But she is also tirelessly ready
to serve, in her house-keeping as in affairs, devoted to the family of
which she is the living bond, an affectionate but careful mother who is
honoured and loved by her sons with a pure and tender fervour. For in
France, in spite of the general European tendency to moral absolutes
at least in theory, the balanced sanity and practical wisdom of the
people has never failed to recognize the different spheres and powers,
qualities and weaknesses, of men and women. And further, Greek thought
and an unbroken Roman tradition have kept alive in France the ideal of
a temperate and steady fruition of a world that is made for mankind.
In India conditions are different and there is no tradition of mixed
society with an easy untrammelled exchange of ideas. Yet even within
the limits of the family, it might be thought, the added enjoyment
and the larger and finer interests that would be gained by some such
acquaintance with books and music and paintings, and the nobler
emotions thus won, should seem desirable to all who can think at all.

Controversy has raged fiercely in India round this question of woman’s
education. The number of women who can even read and write, if all
classes in the whole country are regarded, is a negligible quantity,
so small it is; and there are vast tracts in which even Brahman girls
remain wholly illiterate. There are many to this day who bitterly
oppose even the teaching of letters to girl-children. That this can be
the case is of course due to the ignorance of their parents. They have
not yet been able to grasp, nor do they know their own ancient history
to sufficient purpose, that reading and writing is the birth-right
of every human being and a necessary condition of all intelligence
and rational development. They are not aware that the ancient ideal
contemplated no such renouncement. And quite without cause they
fear that instruction for a few years in the elements of education
would interfere with the routine of family life and the customs of
marriage. They have perhaps never had it clearly put to them how simply
this instruction could be fitted in with the usual programme of an
ordinary household and how it need imply no departure from existing
practice in other matters. But indefensible though this opposition
to elementary instruction must be, the objections against further
education are unfortunately by no means without excuse. For it must
with bitterness be confessed that the modern world, at any rate in
Europe, has not yet devised any suitable system of higher education
for girls, has indeed rather busied itself with what is unsuitable
and injurious. “Advanced thinkers” and “social leaders” have a way of
shutting their eyes to scientific results; and facts are hard things
which a flabby age prefers to ignore. So girls have been encouraged
to emulate boys and young men in every sort of examination within the
same curriculum, without heed of their earlier precocity, different
method of nervous activity and smaller reserve force, to the detriment
of health and natural talents and to their unfitting for their own
purposes and functions. It is this which Indian parents, with an eye
open to facts when they are so broad and natural as the facts of sex,
have apprehended, however dimly, and as it were unconsciously. They
have guessed what higher education must in all probability mean in
India, as long as European education remained unchanged. And they
would not let their girls run the risk of an education which might
distort, rather than develop, their sex. Late events served further to
deepen this strong and instinctive distrust; and it is indisputable
that the excesses of an unhappy section of English women with abnormal
aspirations have set back the cause of women’s education in India by
many decades.


The misfortune is that in India opposition does not confine itself to
a particular and, one hopes, a temporary phase of secondary education;
nor does it recognize that in all countries, and especially in India
with its universal and early marriage, the question of higher
education can affect only a very small number of the total. The feeling
of dislike is instinctive and intuitional rather than a reasoned
criticism, and it has crept on like a cloud of smoke over the whole
field of elementary education. Necessarily it has also obscured all
view of a possible, better indigenous method of higher education, which
should at once be consonant with the traditions of ancient India and
the needs of women in Indian society. Such a system appears now to have
been set under way in the wonder-working country of Japan, and with
little change might probably be made suitable to Indian conditions. It
deserves at least to be studied without prejudice and with a settled
understanding of the requirements of the land and of the small classes
of women who would directly benefit.

In spite of all obstacles, due partly to the decay of older customs,
partly also to imported confusions, it may be hoped that before long
it will be admitted that every girl must be taught to read and write.
And one may even hope that a higher education will ensue which, without
slurring over a woman’s earlier precocity and special talents, without
ignoring her specific duties as wife and mother, without forgetting the
peculiar needs and excellences of her mind and body, will in addition
make her more liberal, better instructed, a worthier companion and a
nobler inspiration. In India happily a girl is already allowed to know
the facts of life and her emotions are at least natural. But such an
education as one foresees would teach her to know more clearly and
with scientific truth how to be at once a pleasing and happy wife and a
good mother. She, and through her the children whom she trains, would
learn the evils of premature or too constantly recurring childbirth and
how to avoid them easily. She would know also how to protect her family
from uncleanly surroundings and unwholesome habits. She would not
unlearn but rather be taught even better the necessary arts of cooking
and of sewing, the latter nowadays in many cases almost unknown. But in
addition she would also learn to appreciate the beauties of language
and of craftsmanship, to hear and understand great poetry, and to feel
her whole being thrill to a more glorious harmony in response to the
call of the fine arts. She would still--like the Nair ladies of whom
old Duarte Barbosa wrote--“hold it a great honour to please men.” Yet
she would please not merely by her passion and purity and service, but,
keeping these, would also create a higher attraction of the spirit.
Thus would the lotus women of India be in truth such that of each it
might be said: “She walks delicately like a swan and her voice is low
and musical as the note of the cuckoo, calling softly in the summer
day.… She is gracious and clever, pious and respectful, a lover of God,
a listener to the virtuous and the wise.”

  “It may be all my love went wrong--
  A scribe’s work writ awry and blurred,
  Scrawled after the blind evensong--
  Spoilt music with no perfect word.”

                  _The Leper._ SWINBURNE.

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