COLONEL JAMES WELSH
Colonel James Welsh of the British Army, published a book titled “MILITARY REMINISCENCES : A journal of nearly 40 years’ active service in East India”’ in 2 volumes. It was published in London by Smith, Elder and Co., in 1830 (MDCCCXXX). In this book he records his impressions of two visits, the first during 1819 and the second during 1825. This is perhaps the most authentic record of the personality of Swathi Thirunal that is available today. It may be noted that Col. Welsh, like many European officers of the time, held the customs, practices and most often all that is native not in high regard as is evident in his reference to Ramanaattam performance, maternal hierarachy etc. in the excerpts below. It is such a person who has gone on to lavish praises on Swathi Thirunal.
Pursuing our voyage, on the 8th of December, we encountered an adverse gale in the Straits, which we weathered with dufficulty, and reached Calicut, on the Malabar coast, on the 2nd of January, 1819.
I now pass over several months, spent in moving about to places already mentione, and request the reader to accompany me from Quilon; where it had proved to excessively hot and oppressive for some days, towards the capital of Travancore to which place I was proceeding to meet the kindest and best friend I ever had, Major Sutherland M’Dowall, just appointed to succeed Colonel Munro as Resident. I left Quilon on the 13th May; and on the morning of the 14th, at sunrise, whilst traveling in a aspecies of litter, callec Muncheel, my two dogs, which were running along side of it were suddenly attacked by a number of jungle-dogs, called Chene Nye, or Chain Nigh, an animal of which I had heard much, and read more; but which, extraordinary to relate, I had never before encountered, during a peregrination of eight-and –twenty years in the East. Those I saw on this occasion very much resembled wolves, only larger, being of a bright brown, with long bushy black tails. My constant companion, a double-barreled gun, was soon removed from its slings, attached to the muncheel pole, and I fired at the two foremost with small shot; the effect was instantaneous, for all scampered off with shrieks, and I saw no more of them. On this occasion, taken suddenly and unawares, I obeyed the first impulse, and fortunately succeeded. Most likely they had never before heard the sound of a gun, or felt the smart of shot rattling against their ribs, for all were exposed to it’s effects; but the experiment might not answer where they were more numerous; as it said that they always hunt in large packs, and never relinquish their game, be it an elephant, royal tiger, or buffalo; but coute qui coute, destroy it in end. The spot on which we encountered them was about sixteen miles from Quilon, the road passing through a deep through a deep jungle; and my dogs being saved, we resumed our journey.
On the 17th of May I reached the cantonement near Trevaderum, and found a capital house, built on a delightful, elevated spot, for the Resident, and a couple of battalions of Nairs in the Ranee’s service, offered by Englishmen, together with half a battalion of our own, in the barracks; but my friend had not arrived, and I put up with Major McLeod, who commanded the Ranee’s brigade: Captain Gordon of Alepie, being acting Resident, and living in the cantonment.
On the 20th, still waiting for Major M’Dowall, we received an invitation from the Ranee, who had, in 1812, succeeded the Rajah, formerly mentioned, to be present at the celebration of her daughter’s marriage. We had a distance of about three miles to go, when alighting at the Palace-door, we were ushered into a temporary building, devoid of taste, splendour, or elegance; where, upon a silver throne, sat the Ranee of Travancore [Swathi's aunt], who was really a very interesting young woman, and received us with much kindness; two couches were placed, one on each side of the throne, with chairs arranged beyond them for European visitors. After the etiquette of a regular introduction by Captain Gordon, we all took our seats, and were regaled by dancing girls foe about two hours, and then followed an abominable Malabar play. I observed near the throne several naked Brahmins, two of whom only, good-looking men, were clothed in chintz, and stood directly behind the Queen. These proved to be the husbands, one [Swathi's father] of a former Taumbratee, the other of the present Ranee. In this family the boys of the elder women are always the heirs. There are two young Rajahs at present in the Palace; one, the rightful heir to the throne is now seven years old [Swathi] and a very fine boy. He is the son of an elder sister of Ranee, by the eldest of the Brahmin husbands I have mentioned. The other, the son of the Ranee and the other husband, is only three or four; these men, though fed and kindly treated in the palace, have no authority, nor are they permitted to sit in the Ranee’s presence in public. In addition to which, she may change them whenever she is tired of one, by sending him away, and selecting another, but only from amongst the Brahmins; which very clearly proves that the women bear the sway in Travancore and indeed generally all along the Malabar coast. The two young rajahs sat on my knee alternately during the whole evening without any restraint. The princes of this coast are all called Taumberaun, and the princesses Taumbratee. When the performers had wearied themselves as well as us, by an indecent Malabar Drama called Ramnatun, the Ranee said she would show us some fireworks, and we followed her out to an open pandal under which chairs were arranged for the whole party, who sat for an hour longer. The fireworks, from the state of weather were very poor but the affability and good sense of Her Highness made up in my mind, for all disappointment indeed , the spot in which they were exhibited was such as to make one rather rejoice at their failure and the rain which was then pouring as it was only broad street with thatched houses on both sides many of which might have been set on fire in an instant.
On taking our leave at eleven, P.M., the Ranee entreated us to return next day, but one of the ladies being unwell, the party was put of till the 22nd when we again assembled at eight, P.M. and now some excellent fireworks , the same monotonous dancing and a few more acts over it.
EXTRACT 2 :1825
Having mentioned Col. Munro again, as a former Resident, I must add that he appears to me to have been the kindest and most liberal friend the Christians ever had in Travancore. I do not pretend to enter into the policy of his measures but under him they held situations of trust and respectability which gave them some consequence amongst the natives of the country, and certainly the cause of religion was greatly forwarded. On this subject much difference of opinion has always prevailed in the East and in almost any other country than Travancore, I should hesitate to advocate its advancement, since, in the most other parts of India, the converts are from the basest of native population. But in the kingdoms of Travancore and Cochin, the Christians have been born and bred such and it is moreover a remarkably tolerant government. I must not get this delicate subject without declaring myself a friend to the advancement of the only true religion and my firm belief that the ice is already broken in the East and the true mode, under the blessings of a gracious Providence already adopted in the diffusion of knowledge amongst the rising generation by the establishment of schools: I trust, therefore , our countrymen will lend the aid of their example, which ought to go hand in hand with precept, to lure the ignorant and misguided natives into the oath which leads to eternal salvation. Since my departure from Quilon, I have understood that Mr. Fenn and family have left Cotyam, and returned to Europe; and that Mr. Doring, a young man of abilities and liberal education, now supplies his place in the College.
Being on a tour of inspection during the month of May and stopping to pass a few days at the Residency, with Colonel Newall, I had an opportunity of witnessing the studies of the young Rajahs in private, and forming an estimate of their progressive acquirements and abilities. On the morning of the 16th, at ten o’clock, I accompanied the Colonel in his gig, without attendants, to the fort, where we were immediately conducted to a room in the Palace, and found them, with their father, their sister, her husband, and their school-master ready to receive us. The elder boy, now thirteen [Swathi], seemed greatly improved in mind though rather diminutive in person. He read a chapter of Malcolm’s Central India; the Governor-general’s Persian Letter, on the capture of Rangoon; a passage in Sanskrit; another in Malayalam, and seemed equally clever at each. He then took up a book of Mathematics, and selecting the forty-seventh proposition of Euclid, sketched the figure on a country slate; what astonished me most, was his telling us in English that geometry was derived from the Sanskrit, which was ‘jaw meter’ to measure the earth, and that many of our mathematical terms were also derived from the same source, such as hexagon, heptagon, octagon, decagon, duodecagon etc. His remarks were generally apposite, but their language inelegant and ungrammatical. This is much to be lamented, because with so many studies on hand he can never read enough of English to correct his idiom; and the master, a very clever Tanjore Brahmin could not speak it much better himself. His Persian was pure and elegant; but of other languages I am too ignorant to offer an opinion. This promising boy is now, I conclude sovereign of the finest country in India; for he was to succeed to the Musnud the moment he had attained his sixteenth year. The younger brother gave us various specimens of his acquirements; somewhat inferior, of course to those of the rising sun of the country, but still very fair.
The princess at whose wedding I was present in 1819, was grown both fat and coarse [Swathi's elder sister]. Their father, a very handsome man about the middle age is their joint guardian, with the Ranee and the Resident; but has no other power or authority whatever. The princesses husband looks very much like her younger brother: indeed apart, I should not know the one from the other. At noon we took our leave much gratified with this domestic scene.
I have not made any mention of the present Dewaun, an uncommonly handsome, fair and elegant Carnatic Brahmin. His name is Venkit Rao and he is one of the most intelligent, well educated men, I have met with in India, and writes an excellent letter. As far as I could learn he was most attentive and unremitting in his exertions for the improvement of the country and the good of the State. Such a man to educate the young princes would have been “worth his weight in gold”.
On the night of the 4th of October this year, I perceived a comet the nearest I have ever seen; which continued uncommonly distinct till the 12th of December when it appeared.
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