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Grass is the prevailing feature of the country, as there are few shrubs, and still fewer trees. Goats and the common Indian cow are plentiful; but it is not swampy enough for the buffalo; and sheep are scarce, on account of the heat of the climate. This uniformity of feature over so immense an area is, however, due to the agency of man, and is of recent introduction; as all concur in affirming, that within the last hundred years the face of the country was covered with the same long jungle-grasses which abound in the Terai forest; and the troops cantoned at Titalya (a central position in these plains) from 1816 to 1828, confirm this statement as far as their immediate neighbourhood is concerned.
These gigantic _Gramineae_ seem to be destroyed by fire with remarkable facility at one season of the year; and it is well that this is the case; for, whether as a retainer of miasma, a shelter for wild beasts, both carnivorous and herbivorous, alike dangerous to man, or from their liability to ignite, and spread destruction far and wide, the grass-jungles are most serious obstacles to civilization. Next to the rapidity with which it can be cleared, the adaptation of a great part of the soil to irrigation during the rains, has greatly aided the bringing of it under cultivation.
By far the greater proportion of this universal short turf grass is formed of _Andropogon acicularis, Cynodon Dactylon,_* [Called "Dhob." This is the best pasture grass in the plains of India, and the only one to be found over many thousands of square miles.] and in sandy places, _Imperata cylindrica_; where the soil is wetter, _Ameletia Indica_ is abundant, giving a heather-like colour to the turf, with its pale purple flowers: wherever there is standing water, its surface is reddened by the _Azolla,_ and _Salvinia_ is also common.
At Jeelpigoree we were waited upon by the Dewan, who governs the district for the Rajah, a boy about ten years old, whose estates are locked up during the trial of an interminable suit for the succession, that has been instituted against him by a natural son of the late Rajah: we found the Dewan to be a man of intelligence, who promised us elephants as soon as the great Hooli festival, now commenced, should be over.
The large village, at the time of our visit, was gay with holiday dresses. It is surrounded by trees, chiefly of banyan, jack, mango, peepul, and tamarind: interminable rice-fields extend on all sides, and except bananas, slender betel-nut palms, and sometimes pawn, or betel-pepper, there is little other extensive cultivation. The rose-apple, orange, and pine-apple are rare, as are cocoa-nuts: there are few date or fan-palms, and only occasionally poor crops of castor-oil and sugar-cane. In the gardens I noticed jasmine, _Justicia Adhatoda, Hibiscus,_ and others of the very commonest Indian ornamental plants; while for food were cultivated _Chenopodium,_ yams, sweet potatos, and more rarely peas, beans, and gourds. Bamboos were planted round the little properties and smaller clusters of houses, in oblong squares, the ridge on which the plants grew being usually bounded by a shallow ditch. The species selected was not the most graceful of its family; the stems, or culms, being densely crowded, erect, as thick at the base as the arm, copiously branching, and very feathery throughout their whole length of sixty feet.
A gay-flowered _Osbeckia_ was common along the roadsides, and, with a _Clerodendron,_* [_Clerodendron_ leaves, bruised, are used to kill vermin, fly-blows, etc., in cattle; and the twigs form toothpicks. The flowers are presented to Mahadeo, as a god of peace; milk, honey, flowers, fruit, amrit (ambrosia), etc., being offered to the pacific gods, as Vishnu, Krishna, etc.; while Mudar (_Asclepias_), Bhang (_Cannabis sativa_), _Datura,_ flesh, blood, and spirituous liquors, are offered to Siva, Doorga, Kali, and other demoniacal deities.] whose strong, sweet odour was borne far through the air, formed a low undershrub beneath every tree, generally intermixed with three ferns (a _Polypodium, Pteris,_ and _Goniopteris_).
The cottages are remarkable, and have a very neat appearance, presenting nothing but a low white-washed platform of clay, and an enormous high, narrow, black, neatly thatched roof, so arched along the ridge, that its eaves nearly touch the ground at each gable; and looking at a distance like a gigantic round-backed elephant. The walls are of neatly-platted bamboo: each window (of which there are two) is crossed by slips of bamboo, and wants only glass to make it look European; they have besides shutters of wattle, that open upwards, projecting during the day like the port-hatches of a ship, and let down at night. Within, the rooms are airy and clean: one end contains the machans (bedsteads), the others some raised clay benches, the fire, frequently an enormous Hookah, round wattled stools, and various implements. The inhabitants appeared more than ordinarily well-dressed; the men in loose flowing robes of fine cotton or muslin, the women in the usual garb of a simple thick cotton cloth, drawn tight immediately above the breast, and thence falling perpendicularly to the knee; the colour of this is a bright blue in stripes, bordered above and below with red.
I anticipated some novelty from a visit to a Durbar (court) so distant from European influence as that of the Rajah of Jeelpigoree. All Eastern courts, subject to the Company, are, however, now shorn of much of their glory; and the condition of the upper classes is greatly changed. Under the Mogul rule, the country was farmed out to Zemindars, some of whom assumed the title of Rajah: they collected the revenue for the Sovereign, retaining by law ten per cent. on all that was realized: there was no intermediate class, the peasant paying directly to the Zemindar, and he into the royal treasury. Latterly the Zemindars have become farmers under the Company's rule; and in the adjudication of their claims, Lord Cornwallis (then Governor-General) made great sacrifices in their favour, levying only a small tribute in proportion to their often great revenues, in the hope that they would be induced to devote their energies, and some of their means, to the improvement of the condition of the peasantry. This expectation was not realized: the younger Zemindars especially, subject to no restraint (except from aggressions on their neighbours), fell into slothful habits, and the collecting of the revenue became a trading speculation, entrusted to "middle men." The Zemindar selects a number, who again are at liberty to collect through the medium of several sub-renting classes. Hence the peasant suffers, and except a generally futile appeal to the Rajah, he has no redress. The law secures him tenure as long as he can pay his rent, and to do this he has recourse to the usurer; borrowing in spring (at 50, and oftener 100 per cent.) the seed, plough, and bullocks: he reaps in autumn, and what is then not required for his own use, is sold to pay off part of his original debt, the rest standing over till the next season; and thus it continues to accumulate, till, overwhelmed with difficulties, he is ejected, or flees to a neighbouring district. The Zemindar enjoys the same right of tenure as the peasant: the amount of impost laid on his property was fixed for perpetuity; whatever his revenue be, he must pay so much to the Company, or he forfeits his estates, and they are put up for auction.
One evening we visited the young Rajah at his residence, which has rather a good appearance at a distance, its white walls gleaming through a dark tope of mango, betel, and cocoa-nut. A short rude avenue leads to the entrance gate, under the trees of which a large bazaar was being held; stocked with cloths, simple utensils, ornaments, sweetmeats, five species of fish from the Teesta, and the betel-nut.
We entered through a guard-house, where were some of the Rajah's Sepoys in the European costume, and a few of the Company's troops, lent to the Rajah as a security against some of the turbulent pretenders to his title. Within was a large court-yard, flanked by a range of buildings, some of good stone-work, some of wattle, in all stages of disrepair. A great crowd of people occupied one end of the court, and at the other we were received by the Dewan, and seated on chairs under a canopy supported by slender silvered columns. Some slovenly Natch-girls were dancing before us, kicking up clouds of dust, and singing or rather bawling through their noses, the usual indelicate hymns in honour of the Hooli festival; there were also fiddlers, cutting uncouth capers in rhythm with the dancers. Anything more deplorable than the music, dancing, and accompaniments, cannot well be imagined; yet the people seemed vastly pleased, and extolled the performers.
The arrival of the Rajah and his brothers was announced by a crash of tom-toms and trumpets, while over their heads were carried great gilt canopies. With them came a troop of relations, of all ages; and amongst them a poor little black girl, dressed in honour of us in an old-fashioned English chintz frock and muslin cap, in which she cut the drollest figure imaginable; she was carried about for our admiration, like a huge Dutch doll, crying lustily all the time.
The festivities of the evening commenced by handing round trays full of pith-balls, the size of a nutmeg, filled with a mixture of flour, sand, and red lac-powder; with these each pelted his neighbour, the thin covering bursting as it struck any object, and powdering it copiously with red dust. A more childish and disagreeable sport cannot well be conceived; and when the balls were expended, the dust itself was resorted to, not only fresh, but that which had already been used was gathered up, with whatever dirt it might have become mixed. One rude fellow, with his hand full, sought to entrap his victims into talking, when he would stuff the nasty mixture into their mouths.
At the end attar of roses was brought, into which little pieces of cotton, fixed on slips of bamboo, were dipped, and given to each person. The heat, dust, stench of the unwashed multitude, noise, and increasing familiarity of the lower orders, warned us to retire, and we effected our retreat with precipitancy.
The Rajah and his brother were very fine boys, lively, frank, unaffected, and well disposed: they have evidently a good guide in the old Dewan; but it is melancholy to think how surely, should they grow up in possession of their present rank, they will lapse into slothful habits, and take their place amongst the imbeciles who now represent the once powerful Rajahs of Bengal.
We rode back to our tents by a bright moonlight, very dusty and tired, and heartily glad to breathe the cool fresh air, after the stifling ordeal we had undergone.
On the following evening the elephants were again in waiting to conduct us to the Rajah. He and his relations were assembled outside the gates, mounted upon elephants, amid a vast concourse of people. The children and Dewan were seated in a sort of cradle; the rest were some in howdahs, and some astride on elephants' backs, six or eight together. All the idols were paraded before them, and powdered with red dust; the people howling, shouting, and sometimes quarrelling. Our elephants took their places amongst those of the Rajah; and when the mob had sufficiently pelted one another with balls and dirty red powder, a torchlight procession was formed, the idols leading the way, to a very large tank, bounded by a high rampart, within which was a broad esplanade round the water.
The effect of the whole was very striking, the glittering cars and
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