Letters on India – Maria Graham (1814)

The following excerpts are from Maria Graham’s book called Letters on India which was based on her stay in India between 1808 and 1811


The Sikhs continued to increase in numbers, and as it should seem in consequence, for we find that their fourth Guru or spiritual leader built the town of Ramdaspoor now called Amritsar, which is the holy city of the Sikhs. But their tranquillity was soon to be disturbed, and the peaceable religious sectary, urged by Mussulman persecution, changed his character for that of an intrepid warrior before a hundred and fifty years since the death of Nanac had elapsed; and in half a century more the repeated cruelties of the Mahomedans, especially the murder of the leader of the Sikhs, Tegh Bahader, raised a new champion and legislator in the person of Guru Govind, his son, who carried every religious innovation on both the Mussulman and Hindu creeds, far beyond the boundaries Nanac had prescribed, abolished the- distinctions of caste, and engrafted the military devotion to steel on the religious faith of Nanac, and thus formed that singular combination of Monotheism with worship distinctly paid to the sword, by which he purchased and preserved his political existence, which so long excited the curiosity of Europeans.

Guru Govind’s first step in his new legislation was to make all his subjects equal in civil rights, and to inspire them all with pride and military ardour he caused them to take the name of Singh or Lion, and constantly to wear steel in some shape about them*.

* “The protection of the infinite lord is over us: thou art ” the lord,- the cutlass, the knife, and the dagger. The protection of the immortal being is over us, the protection of ” All Steel is over us: the protection of All Time is over ” us: the protection of All Steel is constantly over us.” (Verses of Guru Govind from Sir J. Malcolm.)

He also enjoined them to let their hair grow and to wear blue clothes, customs which are still regarded by the Acalis or never dying, a tribe of mendicant devotees, who surround the pool of Amritsar, and who, at once insolent and powerful, have a singular influence in the state. These distinctions were part of Govind’s policy to separate his people from those by whom they were surrounded. His courage, his policy, his intellect, were all applied to revenge his father’s death, and to make his people formidable to the Mahomedans; but his power was unequal to the mightiness of his views, and after a race of glory suitable to his wishes for some years, fortune turned and favoured his enemies, and he died A. D. 1708, of wounds received in the Deccan at Nader, a town on the Godavery. After his death the Sikhs seized the opportunity afforded by the distractions of the Mogul empire under Aurengzebe’s immediate successors to revenge their priest; they seized Serhind and ravaged the greatest part of the northern provinces of Hindostan. But they were too few long to contend with the Moguls, and they were persecuted and put to death wherever they could be found, a high reward being offered for the head of every Sikh. The troubles, however, caused by the Mahratta incursions, the inroads of Ahmed Shah, and the cruel fate of some of the last sovereigns of Dehli gave a breathing time to the Sikhs whom persecution had hardened, and they again assembled at Amritsar, whence they began those inroads into the Panjab, which finally put them in possession of the whole province.

The sacred books of the Sikhs contain both their history and their laws. The first or Adi Granth was composed by Nanac and his four immediate successors. The other is the Dasama Padshah ka Granth or book of the tenth ruler, written by Guru Govind. These books are read in the religious assemblies of the people, who on meeting eat together, and then proceed to their devotions. The form of government which prevailed among the Sikhs under their ten Gurus, was that of a commonwealth, acknowledging a spiritual chief, who took upon himself the military command, when the people changed their character of peaceful devotees, for that of martial enthusiasts.

(Pages 374-376)

Maria Graham (née Dundas; 19 July 1785 – 21 November 1842), later Maria, Lady Callcott, was a British writer of travel books and children’s books, and also an accomplished illustrator. Graham published two books on India. Her first book was called Journal of a Residence in India, and the second one was called Letters on India.

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