Tod as an observer of landscape in Rajasthan.
The years during which James Tod was in central and western India (1800-22), as also the years when he wrote the accounts of his experiences in India after his return to London (1823-35), were years of economic, political, aesthetic, and scientific transformation in Great Britain and Europe. The Industrial Revolution in Britain was changing the traditional rural, agricultural economy into an urbanized economy centred on factory production; there were moves for electoral reform, in order to extend the right to vote to a larger part of the population; the Napoleonic wars changed the European political scene; and there were new empirical approaches in fields of scientific investigation such as geology, geography, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, and anatomy.
In the aesthetic field of artistic production also, there was a shift towards more direct observation of the objects and scenes depicted, a greater emphasis on atmospheric effects through contrasts of light and shade under the influence of the emerging Romantic poets who gave importance to emotional responses to nature, to the individual, to the imaginative creativity of the poet, and to isolated or wild natural scenes, together with a preference for rough and ragged colouring in what came to be labelled as the "Picturesque". This picturesque mode of pictorial representation stood halfway between the earlier classical aesthetic categories of the Sublime (which inspired terror through imposing size or darkness) and the Beautiful (which incited pleasure through reassuring harmonies). (1) Picturesque depictions of landscapes, in trying to provoke astonishment and delight, also took inspiration from 17th-century classical landscape artists like Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa, who had experimented with light and shade effects in scenes of storms, battles, and seascapes, from a narrow, low viewpoint in a restricted range of tones, to create a brooding, moody atmosphere. These picturesque landscape characteristics had been taken up in the late 18th century by neo-classical explorers like Winckelmann and d'Hancarville in connection with Greece and Egypt. (2) Transposed into the colonial setting of the East India Company's activities in India, British landscape depictions showed emphasis chiefly on topographical accuracy linked to military surveying, a utilitarian approach to exotic species of vegetation and geological strata, and attention to detail as a means of conveying useful information. Nevertheless atmospheric effects and melancholy meditations on ruins also had their place among British visual portrayals of India around Tod's time, as for example in scenes drawn by William Hodges and Thomas and William Daniell. (3)
That Tod was completely a man of his time can be seen in the occurrences of the terms "picturesque" and "sublime" in the accounts of his travels in Rajasthan, which appear under the heading "Personal Narrative" in each of the two volumes of his Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan. (4) Tod makes several textual depictions of picturesque and sublime landscapes associated with their visual representations by his able assistant and kinsman Captain Patrick Waugh (1788-1829), who accompanied Tod throughout his peregrinations in Rajasthan from 1819 to 1823, being also a gifted watercolourist. (5) In studying Tod's observations of Rajasthani landscapes, we will proceed chronologically through the two sections of his Personal Narrative. We will focus first on three sites from Tod's first volume: Kumbhalgarh, north of Udaipur, followed by the sacred lake of Pushkar, near Ajmer, and then Udaipur itself, a presentation of which closes Tod's first volume. In our second section, we will look at three sites from Tod's second volume: the Mukundwara Pass, south of Kota, followed by the temples of Ganga Bheva in the forest of Puchail in eastern Mewar, and finally the temples of Menal (Mahanal), between Bijolia and Begun, west of Kota. Our aim here is to analyse the textual strategies Tod uses to convey impressions of picturesque or sublime scenes.
Kumbhalgarh, Pushkar, and Udaipur
Arriving at Kumbhalgarh (or Komulmer), a fortified complex on a rocky summit in the Aravalli mountains between Udaipur and Jodhpur, in October 1820 (figure 1), (6) Tod spends seven pages of his text describing the natural setting, the different ruins and fortifications, and the historical legends around the famed Prithviraj, who was allegedly poisoned by a jealous kinsman shortly before the Mughal invasion of India, and his beloved Solanki wife, Tara Bai of Bednore (Bidnaur), who committed sati on the pyre of her deceased young husband at the place of the shrine subsequently built in their honour, "on the opposite side of the valley, and almost in the gorge of the pass" (Annals, I, 533). Tod compares this "simple monumental shrine" to the "Sybilline temple of Tivoli" (near Rome), and comments on its unpretentiousness and moderate dimensions. In contrast to this vignette of refined plainness, he sketches verbally the imposing height of the Kumbhalgarh peak:
The spot where I encamped was at least five hundred feet lower than Arait Pol, the first of the fortified barriers leading to Komulmer, whose citadel rose more than seven hundred feet above the terre-pleine of its outworks beneath. (Annals, I, 530).
Further on, Tod specifies that "the peak of Komulmer will be 3,353 feet above the level of the ocean" (Annals, I, 531). He then describes his descent from this exalted, natural grandeur:
For nearly a mile there was but just breadth sufficient to admit the passage of a loaded elephant, the descent being at an angle of 55[degrees] with the horizon and streams on either side rushing with a deafening roar over their rugged beds.... For another mile it became more gentle, when we passed under a tower of Komulmer, erected on a scarped projection of the rock, full five hundred feet above us. The scenery was magnificent; the mountains rising on each side in every variety of form, and their summits, as they caught a ray of the departing sun, reflecting on our sombre path a momentary gleam, from the masses of rose-coloured quartz which crested them.... Notwithstanding all our mishaps, partly from the novelty and grandeur of the scene, and partly from the invigorating coolness of the air, our mirth became wild and clamorous: a week before, I was oppressed with a thousand ills; and now I trudged the rugged path, leaping the masses of granite which had rolled into the torrent. (Annals, I, 536).
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Here, Tod underlines the "variety of form" and the contrast between "a momentary gleam" from the setting sun and the shade of "our sombre path". These typical characteristics of the picturesque--variety and contrasts between light and shadow--are further heightened by the sudden exuberance of Tod and his group.
On his return journey from Jodhpur to his headquarters in Udaipur, Tod halted at the Pushkar Lake near the city of Ajmer in December 1820 (figure 2). (7) Tod alternates observations on the striking colours of the geological strata of the surrounding mountains--a "rose tint" on one side, and a "greyish granite" on the other, with "white quartz about their summits"--with a description of the visible structures around the lake:
Pushkar is the most sacred lake in India: that of Mansurwar [Mansarovar] in Thibet may alone compete with it in this respect. It is placed in the centre of the valley, which here becomes wider, and affords abundant space for the numerous shrines and cenotaphs with which the hopes and fears of the virtuous and the wicked amongst the magnates of India have studded its margin. It is surrounded by sandhills of considerable magnitude, excepting on the east, where a swamp extends to the very base of the mountains. The form of the lake may be called an irregular ellipse. Around its margin, except towards the marshy outlet, is a display of varied architecture. Every Hindu family of rank has its niche here, for the purposes of devotional pursuits when they could abstract themselves from mundane affairs. (Annals, I, 606).
Here Tod has perspicaciously remarked on the Indian version of the frequent blend of involvement in "mundane affairs" like politics, trade, amassing wealth, or resolving family disputes on the one hand, alongside of absorption in "devotional pursuits" on the other. To these empirical observations, Tod adds accounts of the mythological legends of the origin of the sanctity of Pushkar. It being the site of the Creator Brahma's primordial sacrifice, "before Creation began", it contained the "sole tabernacle dedicated to the One God" throughout India, built only four years prior to Tod's visit there, that is around 1816, by a devout minister of the Maratha chieftain Scindia. Tod explains through popular folklore the teebas or sand-hills in the valley around the lake:
During these rites [i.e. Brahma's primordial sacrifice], Mahadeva, or, as he is called, Bhola Nath, represented always in a state of stupefaction from the use of intoxicating herbs, omitted to put out the sacred fire, which spread, and was likely to involve the world in combustion; when Brimha extinguished it with the sand, and hence the teebas of the valley. Such is the origin of the sanctity of Poshkur. (Annals, I, 607).
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
Tod's last comment shows his deliberate refraining from any value judgements on the belief systems he was inventorying. A little further down in the same paragraph though, he confesses his "heretical" disbelief of the local brahmans' claim to have "a copper plate grant from the Purihara prince of the lands about Poshkur".
Apart from his three journeys across different parts of the region in 1819, in 1820, and in 1821-22, Tod spent most of the time he was posted in Rajasthan at Udaipur, the Mewar capital (figures 3 and 4). (8) Tod's description of Udaipur features at the end of his Personal Narrative in Volume I, marking his return there after his two-month journey to and from Jodhpur, via Kumbhalgarh and Ajmer, at the end of 1819. This description divides into three parts: first, a panoramic description of the Mewar capital with its chain of fortresses as viewed from the east; then, an evocation of the ancient, adjoining site of Ahar containing the cenotaphs of all the Mewar rulers down the ages; and finally, Tod's reflections on the surprising juxtaposition of Jain and Shaivite images in the monuments at Ahar.
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
In the first part, Tod chooses to underline the contrast between the "airy elegance" of the Udaipur palace complex (figure 5) with the heavy solidness of "the pierced battlements of the city beneath". Tod notes "the same aspect of decay" that enveloped "these castellated heights" (Annals, I, 620). Here, we have a blend of picturesque contrast and a Romantic preoccupation with ruins. In the second part of Tod's description of Udaipur, devoted to the necropolis of Ahar, as a faithful Orientalist, gathering as much information as possible, Tod gives a brief history of the site: from the Tamba-Nagri of the Tuar ancestors of Vikramaditya, to the Anundpoor or "happy city" founded by Asa-ditya, the direct ancestor of the Mewar ranas, and finally to "Ahar", whence the patronymic Aharya of the Guhilot clan of Mewar (Annals, I, 620). Finally, Tod concludes his description of Ahar with reflections on its undoubted antiquity:
But the most superficial observer will pronounce Ar to have been an ancient and extensive city, the walls which enclose this sepulchral abode being evidently built with the sculptured fragments of temples. Some shrines, chiefly Jain, are still standing, though in the last stage of dilapidation, and they have been erected from the ruins of shrines still older, as appears from the motley decorations where statues and images are inserted with their heads reversed, and Mahavira and Mahadeva come into actual contact: all are in white marble. Two inscriptions were obtained; one very long and complete, in the nail-headed character of the Jains; but their interpretation is yet a desideratum. A topographical map of this curious valley would prove interesting, and for this I have sufficient materials. (Annals, I, 620-21).
[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]
As always, Tod appears here as the indefatigable topographer and collector of ancient inscriptions, sensitive to the successive sedimentation of historical evidence in ancient human sites, somewhat similar to the sedimentation of the earth's strata. This unifying approach to research and human knowledge was typical of the Enlightenment period, which preceded the later 19th-century specialization and separations between exact sciences (maths, physics, chemistry) and life sciences (geology, botany, zoology, human anatomy) and social sciences (sociology, ethnology, anthropology, history, geography).
Mukundwara, Ganga Bheva, and Menal
In the second volume of Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, Tod recounts his second trip out of Udaipur from January to October 1820, when he visited Kota, Bundi, and Mandalgarh, as well as his third journey from July 1821 to February 1822, when he visited Bundi, Kota, Mukundwara, Baroli, Dhamnar, and Jhalra-Patun. It is during this third trip, in November 1821, that Tod describes the Mukundwara Pass through the Puchail mountains and forest that separate Harawati (including Kota and Bundi) from "the fine plains of Malwa" to the south (Annals, II, 563). It is the area through which the upper Chambal river flows northeastwards to join the Jumna (Yamuna). Here is how Tod describes it:
The sun rose just as we cleared the summit of the pass, and we halted for a few minutes at the tower that guards the ascent, to look upon the valley behind. The landscape was bounded on either side by the ramparts of nature, enclosing numerous villages, until the eye was stopped by the eastern horizon. We proceeded on the terrace of this table-land, of gradual descent, through a thick forest, when, as we reached the point of descent, the sun cleared the barrier which we had just left, and darting his beams through the foliage, illuminated the castle of Bhynsror, while the new fort of Dangermow appeared as a white speck in the gloom that still enveloped the Pathar [or tableland]. ... As we continued to descend, enveloped on all sides by woods and rocks, we lost sight of the towers of Bhynsror, and on reaching the foot of the pass, the first object we saw was a little monastery of Atteets, founded by the chiefs of Bhynsror: it is called Jhalaca. We passed close to their isolated dwelling on the terraced roof of which a part of the fraternity were squatted round a fire, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun. Their wild appearance corresponded with the scene around; their matted hair and beard had never known a comb: their bodies were smeared with ashes (bhaboot), and a shred of cloth round the loins seemed the sole implication that they belonged to a class possessing human feelings. (Annals, II, 563-64).
[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]
What is striking in Tod's textual evocation of the Mukundwara Pass is the contrast between the occasional beams of sunlight through the foliage and the gloom in which the tableland was plunged, creating an effect of chiaroscuro. There is also variety in the man-made lookout tower guarding the ascent alongside of "the ramparts of nature". Finally, his allusion to the "wild appearance" of the Atteet ascetics, in seeming correspondence with the natural setting of "woods and rocks", completes the typical ruggedness of picturesque tableaux. In addition, Captain Waugh's watercolour at the Mukundwara Pass contains ruined columns amid exotic vegetation, conveying with more formally Romantic visual means, the isolated unkemptness of the scene (figure 6). (9)
Between Bhynsror (Bhainsrorgarh) and Bhanpura, alongside what is now the Rana Pratap Sagar, Tod halted at a ruined temple complex called Ganga Bheva, or "the circle of Ganga", from the spring that feeds the temple pond, considered to be "an emanation of Ganga" (Annals, II, 574; figure 7). (10) Tod describes the approach to Ganga Bheva as a surprise: "... through rocks and thickets, until a deep grove of lofty trees enclosed by a dilapidated wall, showed that we had reached the object of our search". Transported by these "mouldering fragments of ancient grandeur" of this "retreat for the votaries of Mahadeva", he situates the site for the reader as a main temple in the centre of a quadrangle of smaller shrines, in differing architectural styles ranging from very ancient to more recent. According to Tod, the most primitive structure of the Ganga Bheva complex is its portico, partly collapsed, with an upper frieze (or "entablature") exhibiting "a profusion of rich sculpture". He finds the structures and embellishments "similar" to those at Baroli (to the west, near Chittor), "though not in so finished a style". In his usual empirical way, Tod goes on to make surmises as to the likely date of the construction of the Ganga Bheva complex, based on an inscription he found there, with the name of a votary on it, and to attempt a chronological classification of Hindu sculpture and architecture:
Whatever the age of this temple (and we found on the pavement the name of a votary with the date s 1011 or AD 955), it is many centuries more recent than those which surround it, in whose massive simplicity we have a fine specimen of the primitive architecture of the Hindus.... [Even so] the sculpture of all these is of a much later date than the specimens at Barolli, and of inferior execution, though far superior to anything that the Hindu sculptor of modern days can fabricate. (Annals, II, 574).
[FIGURE 7 OMITTED]
Here Tod expresses the conservative view that older constructions are aesthetically superior to more modern ones. He comments on the utter desertion of the spot, even describing the existence of a gigantic "koroo" tree in the main hall of the principal temple, its "immense roots" having "rent it to its foundations". He concludes with down-to-earth pragmatism:
It would require a month's halt and a company of pioneers to turn over these ruins, and then we might not be rewarded for our pains. We have therefore set to work to clear a path, that we may emerge from these wilds. (Annals, II, 575).
Towards the end of his third journey, in February 1822, Tod passed through Menal (or Mahanal, meaning "great chasm") in the western face of the Kota-Bundi pathar or tableland (figure 8). (11) Tod appears impressed by the gloomy grandeur (which he compares to Erebus or the dark caverns of the lower world, between earth and the Hades of the ancient Greeks) of this "abyss of about four hundred feet in depth, over which, at a sharp re-entering angle, falls a cascade, and though now but a rill, it must be a magnificent object in the rainy season". He comments on the choice of the spot:
It is difficult to conceive what could have induced the princely races of Cheetore or Ajmer to select such a spot ... which in summer must be a furnace owing to the reflection of the sun's rays from the rock; tradition, indeed, asserts that it is to the love of the sublime alone we are indebted for these singular structures.... On the very brink of the precipice, overhanging the abyss, is the group of mixed temples and dwellings, which bear the name of Pirthiraj; while those on the opposite side are distinguished by that of Samarsi of Cheetore, the brother-in-law of the Chohan emperor of Delhi and Ajmer, whose wife Pirtha-Bae, has been immortalised by Chund, with her husband and brother.... Both fell on the banks of the Caggar amidst heroes of every tribe in Rajpootana. It was indeed to them, as the bard justly terms it, pralaya, the day of universal doom; and the last field maintained for their national dependence. To me, who have pored over their poetic legends, and imbibed all those sympathies which none can avoid who study the Rajpoot character, there was a melancholy charm in the solemn ruins of Mynal. It was a season, too, when everything conspired to nourish this feeling, the very trees which were crowded about these relics of departed glory, appearing by their leafless boughs, and lugubrious aspect to join in the universal mourning. (Annals, II, 596-97).
[FIGURE 8 OMITTED]
Tod seizes upon the relentless bareness of the rocks to make a connection with the tragic fall of two of Rajasthan's most illustrious heroes during the Muslim invasion by Muhammad Ghuri in 1192 CE. It is thus the "melancholy charm" linked to the romanticized history of the Rajputs that Tod emphasizes in his meditations on the sublime aspects of the site.
Tod's various descriptions of landscapes in his Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan seem to fall in more with the contemporary picturesque aesthetic designed to provoke astonishment and delight in the viewer, than with any overt colonialist agenda of proving the inferiority of the colonized or the superiority of the colonizer, though he also never for a moment forgot his role as the British Governor General's political agent to the western Rajput states. In Tod's tendency to compare features of Rajasthani landscapes with certain well-known European archaeological sites (like the cities of ancient Tuscany) or with European mythology (such as the lower world of Erebus), we can observe a certain 18th-century civic humanism which sought to include the entire planet in the same humanity with local variations, rather than the stricter hierarchization of cultures of the later 19th century. Also, instead of feminizing the oriental landscape of Rajasthan, Tod seems to be drawn by virile scenes of mountain peaks and sublime waterfalls, (12) and to identify with its princely heroes of the past. So, in this transitional period between the end of the 18th century and the Victorian heyday of the British Empire, Tod's texts seem to manifest an overlapping of the prevailing discursive frameworks: (13) Renaissance empiricism, an interest in rational objectivity, as well as a Romantic concern with moving scenes of ruins and imposing natural phenomena.
Except for figure 5, all illustrations in this chapter are by courtesy of the Royal Asiatic Society, London.
(1) See Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757) , repr. Oxford, 1998; and Charlotte Klonk, Science and the Perception of Nature: British Landscape Art in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, New Haven, 1996, pp. 28-29 and 67-100.
(2) See Nigel Leask, Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing, 1770-1840, Oxford, 2002, pp. 51, 107-08, 121-22, 274.
(3) Mildred Archer and Ronald Lightbown, India Observed: India as Viewed by British Artists, 1760-1860, London, 1982, pp. 8-10, 12-13.
(4) The edition referred to in this chapter (henceforth abbreviated as Annals) is an Indian reprint of Douglas Sladen's 1859 edition, issued by Rupa & Co., Delhi, 1997. The Personal Narratives appear in vol. I, pp. 519-621 and vol. II, pp. 477-613. For uses of "picturesque" see vol. I, pp. 529-31, 543, 573, 579, 614; vol. II, pp. 504, 535, 539; for uses of "sublime" see vol. I, p. 532; vol. II, p. 573.
(5) Raymond Head, Catalogue of Paintings, Drawings, Engravings and Busts in the Collection of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1991, p. 109.
(6) RAS 037.021; see Head, Catalogue, p. 112. An engraving after Waugh's drawing appeared in the original (1829/32) edition of Annals, vol. I, facing p. 669.
(7) RAS 037.031; see Head, Catalogue, p. 113; engraved vol. I, facing p. 774.
(8) Figure 3: RAS 037.003; see Head, Catalogue, p. 110; engraved vol. I, facing p. 211. Figure 4: RAS 037.020; see Head, Catalogue, p. 112; engraved vol. I, facing p. 653.
(9) RAS 037.108; see Head, Catalogue, p. 116; engraved vol. II, facing p. 740.
(10) RAS 037.094; see Head, Catalogue, p. 116; engraved vol. II, facing p. 716.
(11) RAS 037.110; see Head, Catalogue, p. 116; engraved vol. II, facing p. 746.
(12) See Harriet Guest, "Curiously marked: tattooing, masculinity and nationality in 18th-century perceptions of the South Pacific" in John Barrell (ed.), Painting and the Politics of Culture: New Essays on British Art, 1700-1850, Oxford, 1992, pp. 101-34.
(13) See Klonk, Science and the Perception of Nature, pp. 35 and 99-100.
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|Title Annotation:||James Tod|
|Publication:||Marg, A Magazine of the Arts|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2007|
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