Saturday, January 05, 2008

James Tod - Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan: The Feudalism Debate

Lieutenant–Colonel James Tod (1782-1835) came to India as a cadet in the Bengal army in 1799. He commanded the escort of his friend Graeme Mercer, then Government Agent at the court of Daulat Rao Scindhia, from 1812 to 1817. In these three years he organized detailed surveys in Rajputana and Central India. These surveys greatly helped the British in the third Anglo-Maratha War and in the campaigns in Rajputana which led to the signing of treaties with Scindhia regarding assistance against the Pindaris. After that, nineteen other Rajput states signed alliances with the British. This greatly assisted the British in curbing the aggression of the Marathas as well as Pindaris. Tod became the political Agent in Western Rajputana in 1818 and continued to be so till he went back to England in June, 1822 at the age of 40.

It was in this period when Tod managed to conciliate and settle the feuds within the Rajput states and also managed to collect materials which went into the making of the Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, in two volumes, published between 1829 and 1832. It was reprinted in Madras in 1873, in Calcutta in 1874 and again in 1898, and in London in 1914. It was published again in 1920 in three volumes, edited, with an introduction and notes by William Crooke and published by Oxford University Press. In this voluminous work, Tod describes the geography of Rajasthan, a history of the Rajput tribes, a sketch of the feudal system in Rajputana during that period and then devotes the remaining sections for historical narratives of the main states, interspersed with personal experiences. In this paper, I would like to illustrate Tod’s version of feudalism in Rajasthan and the different debates surrounding it.

In the chapter “Sketch of a Feudal System in Rajasthan”, Tod contests Henry Hallam’s view that feudalism was a phenomenon that was unique to England, France and parts of Germany. He attempts to establish several underlying commonalities between the Rajputs and the English. He argues that the tribes of early Europe and the Rajput tribes had a common scythic origin in Central Asia and that the Rajputs had a feudal system similar to which had existed in parts of Europe. In dealing with the Rajputs, Tod pointed to land grants, military liability and even feudal incidents, including relief of a year’s revenue payable by an heir, wardship, escheat, forfeiture and aids levied for war or on the marriage of the king’s son or daughter. However, he sets aside marriage and alienation while describing Rajasthan’s feudal polity. The principle of government was “truly patriarchal” as, “the greater portion of the vassal chiefs, from the highest of the sixteen peers to the holders of a chursa( skin or hide) of land, claim affinity in blood to the sovereign” (Tod 109). About three-quarters of the land was distributed as grants, the king living off his own revenue from the rest. Rajput chiefs were formally graded according to the size of the land they enjoyed, right from the king who owned the best land to the “offsets of the younger branches” of the king’s family. Each chief was supposed to look after his own dependants in this feudal tenurial hierarchy. “Legislative authority” was in the hands of the Prince who promulgated “Legislative enactments”, with the aid of his civic council, the four ministers of his crown and their deputies. The posts of ministers were not hereditary as they were not from the Rajput castes as against the “Purdhans” who were the “military ministers” and were Rajputs (Tod 119).

The word Feudalism comes from the fee, feud or feudom, that is, the fee or the fief. This was the form of property described in the law books of medieval Europe. John Critchley describes the fief as a piece of land handed over by “one person, X, . . . to another, Y, on condition that Y do services for him” (Critchley 12). The personal relationship of lord and vassal, that is, grantor and grantee is described as feudal. The Libri feudoro, the most famous collection of feudal laws, states that the vassal should never attack his lord or his castle while the lord is in it, should keep his hands off his lord’s wife and near relatives, must warn his lord about any plot being hatched, must help him in wars and must never forsake his lord in the battlefield (Critchley 31). This relationship could be found in Rajputana. Another aspect that was similar was the emphasis on honour. However, when it comes to military liability, the one difference that lay between the European vassals and the Rajput states was that the Rajputs fought not because they were given lands but because they were a warrior race determined by the caste system in India. Again, the patriarchal Rajput polity based on kinship was different from the lord-vassal relationship in Europe, later to be taken up by Sir Alfred Comyn Lyall and Maine to prove that the society in Rajasthan was more tribal or pre-feudal in character (Inden 176).

Harbans Mukhia provides another aspect to the feudalism debate. He rejected a universal abstraction for feudalism. To him, Indian feudalism is marked by a relatively free peasantry in terms of the mode of production, though the means of production lay in the hands of the chiefs, the beneficiaries as grantees of land. The difference in fertility between European and Indian soil, the ability of the Indian peasant to subsist at a much lower level of resources compared to their European counterparts, advanced use of agricultural equipments and irrigation, smaller land holdings, a much longer period of agricultural activities resulted in Indian agrarian history dominated by free peasantry in terms of economy, though not in the legal sense. The earning of revenue from the land being the chief objective for Indian states, there were legal restrictions imposed on the Indian peasants’ mobility and their right to free alienation of land as well as subjecting them to the rendering of forced labour. But, on the whole, the mastery over the means and the process of productions still remained intact in the hands of the peasant provided he properly cultivated the land and paid the revenue to the state or its assignees. Thus, Mukhia proves that social formation in Medieval India cannot just be explained in terms of a Eurocentric notion of feudalism. Nor does he consider Marx’s Asiatic Mode of Production exhaustive as it ignores private property of land. Tod is right as far as ownership of the means of production is concerned, but the peasant’s independent control over the process of production made the “Indian medieval economy”, as Irfan Habib terms it, different from the European feudal system (Mukhia 59).

R.S. Sharma refutes Mukhia’s argument regarding the peasant’s autonomy. The grants that gave the landlords general control over the means of production, also covered agrarian resources, substantially reducing the peasants’ autonomy. The caste system, unquestioned obedience to the landlords and lack of judicial and political rights meant that the autonomy meant almost nothing. Sharma says that the difference between European feudalism and that of the Indian agrarian system lay in the fact that the European landlords did not have to pay taxes to the king, while in India, Kings made grants just in order to collect the revenue, which is the surplus of production. In their turn, the grantees collected rents from their tenant peasants who could be evicted and even subjected to forced labour.

Tod’s intention while describing the feudal polity in India was, however, not just to construct a universalistic notion of feudalism. It rose, partly from “the powerful appeal of the medieval ideal in Britain” and partly from the need for Imperial England to strengthen its hold over the Indian states. The medievalist ideal of the ordered society, for the “world we have lost” because of the advances of industrialization, the French Revolution and Benthamite principles, the overriding nostalgia for “paternalist ideals of social order and proper conduct” and the longing for chivalric ideals made it an attractive dream for Indian civil servants in India (Metcalfe 75). This, along with the notion of “romantic nationalism” (Peabody, Rajasthan 205) constituted Tod’s eulogic description of a feudal Rajasthan. This I would like to elaborate upon in the following section of the paper.

Tod saw feudalism as representing a condition of political perfection, especially for the continuation of British rule in India. He posits the Rajput feudal polity against the despotic Mughals and the predatory Marathas, and the verdict is all for the Rajputs. Actually, the Rajputs being divided into the solar and lunar clans were embroiled in their own feuds, consequently not being inimical to British interests. “The British rulers could save, restore and co-opt polities of this type”, says Inden (175). Tod is quite candid about what sort of relation is to be maintained with the Rajputs. “We have nothing to apprehend from the Rajput states if raised to their ancient prosperity”. He dwells further upon this:

Let there exist between us the most perfect understanding and identity of interests; the foundation-step of which is to lessen or remit the galling . . . let the ties between us be such only as would ensure grand results: such as general commercial freedom and protection, with treaties of friendly alliance. Then if a Tatar or a Russian invasion threatened our eastern empire, fifty thousand Rajputs would be no despicable allies. (Tod 155-56)

Inden argues that Tod’s notion of Rajput feudalism is an attempt to design the “essence” of the Hindu state in general (174). Though exemplary Hindus to Tod, the Rajputs did not represent all Hindus. They were primarily identified as distinct from the Marathas, the latter being the main indigenous rivals of British rule in India. While as a political agent in Rajasthan, Tod tried to garner Rajput military and logistical support against the Marathas and to alleviate worries about possible Russian expansion designs. European rivalry has a lot to do in this conception of the orient as a highly varied terrain where it was necessary to co-opt local groups to take part in the global struggle. So, rather than being an essentialist position, Tod’s depiction of Rajput polity is shaped by the arena of European rivalries as well as internal threats to its rule (Peabody, Rajasthan 204).

The discourse of romantic nationalism is another aspect that goes into Tod’s formulation of the Rajput state. He treated the Mughals, Marathas and Rajputs as distinct, transcendent nations. According to Hobbsbawm and Benedict Anderson, characters now associated with romantic nationalism emerged during the early nineteenth century when Tod was writing and that Tod’s use of the term “nation” arises from the policies he enacted or advocated in his career (Peabody 205). Anderson defines the nation as a social group that is imagined to be limited, sovereign and a community. It has “finite, if elastic boundaries” and is “imagined as sovereign insofar as it does not accept inclusion within any larger ‘divinely-ordained hierarchical dynastic realm’”, maintaining the “ideology of a ‘deep horizontal comradeship’ among all those who belong to it”. Its existence is “absolute and everlasting though at any moment in time this national identity may not be fully manifest” (Peabody, Rajasthan 205-206).

Norbert Peabody finds three of Tod’s policy recommendations being informed by these ideas. The first was of the belief that “the nation consists of a single community”. Tod wanted the Rajput leaders to expel all foreign groups, that is, the Pindaris and the Marathas. The second is that the nation-state should be territorially bounded. He saw Rajasthani state formation as “neither founded on the basis of territorial integrity nor absolute and exclusive political loyalties” caused by the disruptive effects of Marathas invasion. He aimed to correct this degradation by recreating consolidated states. The third policy recommendation is that of Rajput sovereignty but it was not implemented (Peabody, Rajasthan 206-207). He felt the treaties of alliance and protection had the same destabilizing effects as Maratha invasion. Though he supported the policy of indirect rule, he knew the subversive effects of preserving the “visible entities” of the native states. I quote Tod here:

Our anomalous and inconsistent interference . . . operate alike to augment the dislocation induced by long predatory oppression in the various orders of society, instead of restoring that harmony and continuity which had previously existed. The great danger, nay, the inevitable consequence of perseverance in this line of conduct, will be their reduction to the same degradation with our other allies, and their ultimate incorporation with our already too extended dominion. (Tod 102)

Tod minces no words when it comes to the sovereignty of the Rajput states. Anything else is fraught with the dangers of denationalizing effects:

The inevitable consequence is the perpetuations of that denationalizing principle . . . “divide et impera”. We are few; to use an Oriental metaphor, our agents must “use the eyes and ears of others.” That mutual dependence, which would again have arisen, our interference will completely nullify . . . all the sentiments of gratitude which they owe, and acknowledge to be our due, will gradually fade with the national degradation . . . Who will dare to urge that a government, which cannot support its internal rule without restriction, can be national? that without power unshackled and unrestrained by exterior council or espionage, it can maintain self-respect, the corner-stone of every virtue with states as with individuals? This first of feelings these treaties utterly annihilate. Can we suppose such denationalised allies are to be depended upon in emergencies? or, if allowed to retain a spark of their ancient moral inheritance, that it will not be kindled into a flame against us when opportunity offers, instead of lighting up the powerful feeling of gratitude which yet exists towards us in these warlike communities? (Tod 103)

However, this proposal of the Rajputs possessing a “transcendent national identity” actually could further British imperial ambitions. First, the Rajputs and the Marathas could be divided into two opposed groups where previously no such absolute distinction had existed. Secondly, Tod delegitimated the Maratha presence in Rajasthan by branding them as “foreign” invaders who had a “denationalizing” effect on the “indigenous” Rajputs, thus barring the Marathi presence in the trading centres of Rajasthan. Third, Tod constructs the contemporary Rajput polity as “fallen” because of Maratha “denationalizing” influences, paving the way for British imperialism in the guise of resuscating a “lapsed local nationality”. This is a justification for intervention while “articulating a basis for who could be safely co-opted into the apparatus of the ‘empire’ and who should be excluded”. Furthermore, it had the additional effect of shoring up support as to what the East Indian Company was doing in India. Tod also made further distinctions and denationalizing regimes by branding the Mughals as “despotic” and the Marathas as “predatory”, and considered both forms of government as highly unstable. However, Tod’s three political forms, feudal, predatory and despotic cannot be considered as eternal essences in the sense suggested by Inden. Tod’s description for the rehabilitation of the Marathas in the Deccan, his praise for Shivaji and most importantly, his treatment of Jhela Zalim Singh of Kota suggests redefinitions of the outsider/insider motif to suit the apparatus of the empire (Peabody, Rajasthan 208-214). However, constraints of space do not allow me to substantiate this argument.

It is interesting to note that the “romantic nationalism” of Tod regarding the Rajput states was later on taken up by Indian writers themselves to construct a pan-Indian nationalism as a natural extension of the putative local nationalism of groups (Peabody, Rajasthan 214-218). This contradiction in Tod’s formulation of the Rajput nation-states had further ramifications post the mutiny, leading to Lyall and Maine to say that the Rajputs are more of a tribal, pre-feudal society, a formulation which could justify British presence in India better than Tod’s stage-theory driven notion of a feudal Rajasthan similar to that of mediaeval Europe.

Works Cited

Cotton, H.E.A. Rev. of Annals and Antiquities of Rajast’han or, the Central and Western Rajput States of India, by Lt. Col. James Tod. Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London,Vol.2, No. 1. (1921), pp. 139-145. JSTOR.10 Mar. 2007 .

Coulborn, Rushton. “Feudalism, Brahminism and the Intrusion of Islam upon Indian History.” Comparative studies in Society and History, Vol. 10. No. 3. ( Apr., 1968), pp. 356-374. JSTOR. 10 Mar. 2007 .

Critchley, J.S. Feudalism. London: George Allen and Unwin (Publishers) Ltd, 1978.

Haynes, Edwards S. “Rajput Ceremonial Interactions as a Mirror of a Dying Indian State System, 1820-1947.” Modern Asian Studies, Vol 24, No. 3. ( July, 1990), pp.459-492. JSTOR. 10 Mar. 2007 .

Inden, Ronald. Imagining India. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990.

Metcalfe, Thomas R. Ideologies of the Raj. The New Cambridge history of India iii.4. Cambridge:Cambridge UP, 1995.

Mukhia, Harbans. “Was There Feudalism in Indian History?” The Journal of Peasant Studies, 8(3), April 1981, 273-310. Rpt. in The Feudalism Debate. Ed. Harbans Mukhia. Delhi: Manohar Publications,2000. 34-81.

Peabody, Norbert. Hindu Kingship And Polity in Precolonial India. Cambridge Studies in Indian History And Society 9. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.

---. “Tod’s Rajast’han and the Boundaries of Imperial Rule in Nineteenth-Century India.” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 30, No.1. (Feb., 1996), pp. 185-220. JSTOR.10 Mar. 2007 .

Rudolph, Lloyd I. and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph. “Rajputana under British Paramountcy: The Failure of Indirect Rule.” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 38, No. 2. (June, 1966), pp.138-160. JSTOR. 10 Mar. 2007 .

Sharma, R.S. “How Feudal Was Indian Feudalism?” The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 12, Nos. 2 and 3 (Jan. and April). Rpt. In The Feudalism Debate. Ed. Harbans Mukhia. Delhi: Manohar Publications,2000. 82-111.

Thavaraj, M.J.K. “The Concept of Asiatic Mode of Production: Its Relevance to Indian History.” Social Scientist, Vol.12, No. 7. (July, 1984), pp. 26-34. JSTOR. 10 Mar. 2007 .

Tod, Lt. Col. James. Annals and Antiquities of Rajast’han or, the Central and Western Rajput States of India. 2 vols. 1914. London: Routledge; Delhi: M.N. Publishers, 1983.


Deepti said...

this is deepti,remember me from Christel's course?
I have to present a paper on Tod in GC's course pretty soon.while googling i saw ur paper.You have very strategically chosen one particular aspect of the book and focused on it. I have been wanting to do the same...but what part to pick up...i wonder!would u want to suggest something since u have worked in the area. I have a couple of ideas but nothing concrete yet.pls email me if u have any suggestions,it'll be very nice of u!my email id is

mdasadkhan said...

i have this book Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan(vol 2) printed in 1832.

hindu blog said...

It's rattling post. I liked it.