Alwar, 19 February 1893

At 7 o’clock in the morning I was awakened with the news that we would soon arrive in Alwar. I dressed quickly and observed the changed landscape through the window of my compartment — steep hills rising out of the plain everywhere. They are stony and only covered with little vegetation. Some have sharply marked forms and contours. In the fields beside the railway tracks are prancing around numerous holy peacocks.

The state of Alwar ruled by a prince dependant on the British is one of the states of Rajputana, that large territory in the Northwest of continental India between the Yamuna and Indus river which reaches to the Tharr desert, the „Indian Sahara“, on whose border important developments took place. Among the nineteen protectorates of Rajputana, divided into seven British agencies, I name as especially remarkable: Jodhpore, Marwar, Jaipur, Mewar, Bikanir, Dholpur, the already mentioned Bhartpur and Alwar. Ajmere is already part of British territory.

Alwar, located in an area lacking water at the foot of a 400 m high conical hill topped by Fort Alwar and covered by a pointy mountain range has been founded at the end of the last century by Pratap Singh — from the house of Naruka descended from Udaikaran of Jaipur (1367 to 1388) — a vassal  prince of the maharaja of Jaipur. Insubordinate and ambitious, Pratap Singh emigrated and fortified himself on the spot where now stands Alwar and founded the still existing state after the Grand Mughal of Delhi had granted him a charter. Alwar’s princes are part of the parvenus and can not claim, though of noble blood, famous ancestors like for instance the Maharaja of Jhodpur who can apparently trace his lineage back to the  fourth century or like the prince of Udaipur whose ancestors have verifiably ruled already in the eighth century.

The states of the Rajputana agency are as stated guided by the English. But this is exercised in a mild, considerate and friendly manner as the princes of Rajputana  (royal sons) in general look kindly upon England and namely because their territory filled with warriors acts as a buffer towards the wild Afghans.

The current ruling maharaja of Alwar, Jai Singh, the son and successor to Sawai Mangal Singh (died 1892), famous both as a rider and tiger hunter and as a competent ruler and soldier — the last quality has made him a colonel in the English army — is a  Rajputan from the „sun family“ of that Kachwaha tribe which has founded the throne in Gwalior and still prospers today in Doäb in the land between the rivers Ganges an Yamuna.

Jai Singh is said, even though he is only about twelve years old, to have behaved very dignified and highly energetically after the death of his father and the accession to the throne. There exists here the strange custom that the ruler has to shoot a hare at the accession to the throne in front of the assembled people; if he hits, this is considered good fortune. Should he miss, however, this would be a bad sign. At this oracle-like inauguration of his government, Jai Singh knew how to control himself despite the stress that overcomes such a young boy in such a case so that he succeeded in his prophetic master shot.

At Alwar station I was received by the youthful hero of that episode and also by the English agent in Alwar, Colonel Fraser, who supervised the government of the country during the minority of the prince together with a council of local dignitaries.  Members of the council were present too at my festive reception. Jai Singh is a handsome boy with an intelligent open face whose character can in my opinion best qualified as „nice“.

Outside the station a honor guard company of giant Rajputs with full black beards, a squadron of cavalry — the soldiers of both units in red coats and turbans  — and a music band had taken up position. The Rajputs were well selected representatives of the warrior-like beautiful men of the country who not so long ago performed martial fights in the manner of our medieval tournaments but have proved themselves as an excellent unit in the modern sense among the new Anglo-Indian direction. The army of Alwar numbers around 8000 men who are under the command of English officers. A whole row of splendidly ornamented government elephants with rich gear, colorful blankets and gilded haudas was also present. Next to them stood strange wagons from the maharaja’s stable, actually two wheeled carts with pointed roofs covered with colorful fixings and zebu oxen as teams.

Opposite of them, splendid horses were parading, on long leashes, with well coiffed manes and tails. Mostly stallions from the ranch nearby. Also a number of court shikaris some with ancient lances some with brand new English rifles had formed up to embellish the festivities. Furthermore there was a troop of camels that had, as I noticed for the first time, cannons or strong charges intended for trombones packed onto their humps. These cannons were later fired during our trip. A colorful vividly moving procession with true Indian pomp and circumstance!

The honorable archbishop of Agra had the kindness as it was Sunday to send me a Capuchin to read mass in a small Catholic chapel. The Catholic community of Alwar state counts all of eleven heads. The good Capuchin was a former subject of Our Majesty the Emperor — he had been born in the Venetian lands at the time of Austrian rule —  gave a simple warm speech after the church service  in which he praised our country and asked for the Lord’s protection for our monarch. I have to admit that it moved me to listen to a priest of my creed in the midst of deepest India, amidst millions of Hindus and Muslims, in a chapel of only a few square meters ch  and hear him pray for Our Majesty.

After the service we drove to the palace of Banni Bilas built by the third ruler of Alwar, Banni Singh, from the house of Naruka. The palace had been given to our disposition. This garden palace outside the city makes a good impression from outside and differs favorably from the otherwise tasteless palaces of the modern Indian era. In the middle of a well maintained park it combines different styles harmoniously  and is notable for the good arrangement of the numerous verandas and bays which make the building look graceful. In front of the main facade of the palace stands  a large marble basin in whose midst rises a kiosk-like marble balcony. The interior of the palace is naturally European in character and displays little taste. From the balcony of my room I had a nice view on the tops of the trees in the park and the stony mountains around the palace with their ruins and forts.

After many days of bad weather the sky had finally turned blue again and the sun was smiling down and warmed the frozen sons of the earth.  As the official program of the morning was complete I used the pause to write letters home. Towards noon I was presented a number of horses from the stable of the  maharaja, products of Indian breeding that is Marwari and Kattywari, the latter one nearly all foxes with tiger stripes on the legs and a dark eel strip on the back. The horses looked splendid, showed good posture, namely beautiful heads and had good but too small feet for their heavy bodies. A rider of the maharaja, a black Rajput, presented the horses and performed with each a small feat of high dressage: one piaffed, the other marched in lancades,  the third stood up on its rear legs, a fourth knelt down and other jokes of this kind.

In the afternoon I paid a visit to the maharaja in his palace called by the English „The Royal Palace“ or „The City Palace“.

Alwar too has, like all the cities seen in India, its peculiarities in its setup and way of construction. new or newly used motifs in decoration of the buildings, which gives the city a peculiar appearance. The variety of the impressions which the visitor receives from these different cities is an important attraction of the Indian city landscapes.I would like to compare it to the attraction of a changing variation of a theme. Especially notable is the palace built by Jeodan Singh (died 1874), the son of Banni Singh, which now serves for the widows of the former one. That palace has numerous small additions and porches with windows as well as delicate ornaments that look like carved ivory.

The youthful ruler received us amidst his dignitaries. In the usual manner we sat together for some time on richly ornamented gilded chairs opposite one another when the maharaja dedicated a copy of the monograph by Th. H. Hendley „Ulwar and its Art Treasures“ (London, W. Griggs 1888) to me, a splendid work which includes illustrations some in color of among others the most precious pieces of the weapon collection, the library and the treasury of Alwar.

On the suggestion of the resident, the maharaja showed me the weapon collection where an old custodian demonstrated the pieces in a comical way. He not only dressed up in them but performed opera-like fighting poses in them. We saw splendid swords with precious blades and gilded handles that had once cost 20.000 rupees as well as small hunting knives, daggers and chainmail shirts.

The largest treasure by far of the palace is the old manuscript collection of the library which have a gild foundation under the writing and include like our old bibles gorgeous miniature illustrations.  The latter ones are so delicately painted and so fresh in color that one finds only in the most outstanding of our medieval manuscripts. Yes, I might in some aspect place those higher as the perspective is realized much better, the understanding much deeper than the artworks produced at the same time at home. With special pleasure I looked at numerous pictures that illustrated legends of the gods or lives of earlier maharajas which showed feasts and precious hunts, battles and campaigns. The most valuable piece of the whole collection is a manuscript dating from 1848, a copy of „Gulistan“ („the rose garden“, one of two main works by the Persian poet Sadi from the 13th century), whose production cost more than 120.000 fl. in Austrian currency,  in part is artfulness is attributed to the skills of a German.

The special circumstance of European influence can confuse the native sense of beauty I could observe in the treasury where the custodians presented as their most outstanding piece a clock in Empire style similar to those built in Geneva. This one contained a singing hummingbird and stood on a silver table over which the imitating floods of water flowed over artificial fishes — an ugly  bauble.

Not much better is the situation of the paintings and ornaments of the palace rooms. While some walls are decorated with impressive portraits of the maharajas, one finds only European common pieces. In the first floor of the palace one is proudly presented a room that contains small mirrors an mosaics of painted ornaments.  Despite its small size, it took thirty years to complete the ornaments of the room.  The artistic work in another room has been going on for more than twelve years without a visible end in sight; even during the visit there were artists present who scraped and painted on their masterwork. Given the work-shyness of the Hindus one could not be surprised by the slow progress of the work. If the work is finally completed, it is praised not even by its maker as its effect is nothing more than handsome and can only be called somewhat exceptional.

What an agreeable contrast to those glittering artificial works is the view from the platform of the palace on its surroundings! Below us the pond of Pratap Singh with wide stairs leading to the water surface and ten kiosks standing on pillars rising out of the water which are connected by runways with the terraces at the edge. On the left side of the palace, the south side of the water basin, stands the delicate mausoleum of Bakhtawar Singh (died 1815); in the West is a Vishnu temple leaning on the castle hill as are the small sanctuaries on the Northern side which are shaded by trees; finally, the charming architectural impression is completed by the fortress walls and the glittering white towers of the castle hill. Steep hill sides with rocky parts and mighty blocks of stone in the background and above it the deep blue sky unite to create with all these buildings a new attractive scenery. Unfortunately we could not enjoy the view on the palace itself and the city as that platform would have offered a view into the women quarters too.

The maharaja accompanied me to the carriage in the horse breeding farm, a large courtyard-like building where multiple hundred stallions and mares, mostly in free range, are held. The animals are bound with rope on their rear legs which is a common custom in India and often leads to rope wounds on the legs and illnesses caused by this custom like hedgehog foot, mallenders etc. Among the horses there are numerous races present from Arab purebloods to the most common nag but for breeding purposes they use almost exclusively Arabs and Kattyvvari. The breeding mares are all bred locally, country stock.

During the visit to the horse breeding farm we were shown animal fights of all kinds, a favorite entertainment of the Rajputs.  Partridges, cocks, rams, which were especially selected strong and mean animals that fought with determination as well as back-bucks that fought one afte the other. Even quails were set up to fight and proved their mettle as the cocks incited by the display of a hen in a cage attacked each other hotly and hit each other with their beaks so that their feathers flew apart. The piece de resistance was however the fight between two buffalo bulls that attacked in blind fervor and tried to pierce one another with their strong curved horns. One of the combatants was soon wounded and bled strongly which made them even angrier. In the decisive moment, the two combatants were separated by the wardens so that the fight ended in a draw.  Very beautiful was the final to this bloody spectacle, the production of trained parrots that could truly do remarkable tricks; one of these smart birds performed like a rope artist while the other arranged glass pearls in a row on a thread. A third one loaded a small cannon and fired it on its own. I admired the courage of the small artilleryman who stood on the barrel in the smoke of the powder.

Similar to the pigsticking, a panther sticking was arranged where a panther caught shortly before in the surroundings of Alwar was to be chased an killed with lances. To this purpose we moved on horse to a large open moor at the limit of the city where the panther was waiting in a cage. It took a long time before he left this protective shell and sneaked outside to flee in small jumps. Soon all riders took up pursuit but after only a few seconds an English captain pierced it in the flank before it could run at full speed. Now the animal crouched like a cat and tried to jump at the circling riders. A skilled strike with the lance by Prónay wounded it so strongly that it perished amidst further strikes. The English gentlemen stood around the poor panther with satisfaction while I could find no pleasure in such a way of hunting. There will never be a running pursuit as the panther will always crouch and be an easy target for a lance. But the English have a predilection for the chase and every kind of animal from the large nilgai to the jackal is chased. Had the panther perished by a bullet of mine I would have felt satisfaction as a hunter while the lance sticking brought out only laments in me about the destruction of a beautiful skin of the animal.

To inspect the two and three year old horses we rode away from the hunting ground to the courts of foals of the ranch. At the signal of a trumpeter a herd of 250 to 300 animals stormed out at full pace out of a pen, jumped over a high clay wall and ran up to the bar where the animals are fed barley, carrots and clover in the morning and the evening. Despite the apparently sufficient food, and all products of the stallion inspected earlier, the animals looked bad and namely thin; some are also, due to the non-noble blood of their mothers, underdeveloped and disfigured.

After our dinner at our palace to which all Englishmen living in Alwar attended, the illumination of the park and the ignition of a firework concluded the day.

Links

  • Ort:  Alwar, India
  • ANNO – on 19.02.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater plays „Medea“ and „Der Hexenmeister“, while the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater presents the opera „Mephistopheles“.

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