Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/Runjeet Singh's Encampment at Roopur, on the River Sutlej



His Highness the maha-rajah, Runjeet Singh, the great Seik chieftain, who is Lord of the Punjab, or Country of Four Rivers, the conqueror of Cashmere and Moultan, and undisputed master of the most fertile country of India, and of revenues to the amount of two crores (millions) a year, may be styled the only independent prince throughout the whole peninsula. It has always been the policy of the British government to conciliate this potentate, who, notwithstanding some strange notions, the offspring of superstition, is a very able person, and one with whom, though we may not fear him, it is considered advantageous to keep upon good terms.

During the period in which Lord William Bentinck held the reins of government in India, a tour which he made throughout the Bengal territory, and into the hills, afforded an opportunity of a meeting with the chief of Lahore, which it was supposed had some great political object in view. It was deemed expedient to induce our powerful neighbour to enter into a defensive alliance with our government, and to gain, by treaty, the navigation of the Indus, for the more speedy transport of troops by steam from Bombay, in case of the necessity of strengthening the defences on our north-west frontier. The spot selected for the interview might be called classic, since it has been made memorable by affording a passage across the Sutlej to Nadir Shah in his invasion of India, while the river itself is still more celebrated as being the Hyphasis of Alexander the Great, and the boundary of his Eastern conquests. Roopur is beautifully situated among the lower skirts of the Himalaya, where the Sutlej first waters the plains, and the splendid encampment on either side of the river shewed to great advantage amid the low ranges of hills and woody valleys of the landscape.

Runjeet Singh's army occupied the right bank, and probably equalled in magnificence any display ever made by the gorgeous satraps of the East. The spot chosen for the temporary palace of the chieftain exhibited to great advantage the peculiar ingenuity of native talent, which is never so favourably employed as in the conversion of some desert waste into a scene which looks like the work of the fabled genii of the soil. A space of about eight acres of sand having been marked out, the interstices between the intended erections were sowed with a quick-growing herb, and kept constantly watered; when, therefore, the pavilions and tents were raised, they appeared to be surrounded by parterres of the brightest green. Nothing could exceed the splendour of these tents, which gleamed with the richest draperies of crimson, purple, scarlet, and gold, supported on gilt pillars, and having awnings embroidered, and fringed, and tasselled, in the most costly manner. A wall of kanauts, as they are called in India, on which crimson with a lining of yellow satin was substituted for canvass, enclosed the pavilions on three sides, having openings in the shape of lofty gateways, with towers at each angle; the river running in front, and reflecting the whole of this barbaric pomp upon its polished surface. Above, upon a ledge of rock, the highly gorgeous scene was crowned by a pavilion formed of panels of wood plated with silver, and all around were splendid groups of caparisoned elephants, war-horses, and camels. Beyond, the several camps of the maha-rajah's army occupied picturesque positions among the hills, which opened to a view of the snowy range bounding the distance.

Runjeet Singh's entrance into his own camp, in point of pomp and circumstance, will bear a comparison with the most ostentatious display of Asiatic magnificence upon record. The troops were drawn up to receive him, superbly arrayed: a squadron of lancers, wearing yellow satin vestments, richly embroidered with gold, and headed by officers glittering with jewels; the infantry, comprising six battalions, each eight hundred strong, wore handsome uniforms in the European style, and the artillery, which consisted of forty guns, was well served and appointed; the most interesting portion, however, to a stranger being one which is so strongly characteristic of a native army, the Surwar camels, two hundred in number, each decorated with housings of crimson and gold, and carrying a swivel. Then there were the principal officers, sumptuously arrayed, mounted upon elephants, and affording, as they stood in clusters of three or four, between the long files of soldiers, horse and foot, a sort of solid buttress, which had a very imposing appearance. The lines of soldiers were further diversified by groups occupying the centre, consisting of the chiefs of battalions, all gems and gold. Presently a gun was fired, announcing the appearance of the maha-rajah, and a swarm of elephants appeared upon the scene, the stately phalanx surrounded on all sides by irregular troops, lancers, and matchlock men, who, upon their spirited but well-trained horses, careered along with headlong speed, apparently in the most disorderly manner, tilting, jousting, and curvetting, as they hurried wildly on, though, when necessary, drawing up their horses in the midst of a charge, and turning aside, with extraordinary ease and dexterity, when upon the point of encountering some formidable obstacle. This wild pageant having passed, a grave-looking personage, most splendidly attired, appeared upon a prancing steed, ringing with gold and silver ornaments, then another troop, some in chain armour, and all in fanciful but superb costumes, and then, at least a hundred yards behind, like the hero of some scenic display, in the midst of a small group of elephants, and occupying a howdah of gold, placed upon the tallest and most majestic of these animals, came the mighty satrap himself. His approach was the signal for a discharge of artillery on both sides the river, which made the distant echoes ring.

The splendour of the outward garnishing of Runjeet Singh's temporary abode was not shamed by any discrepancy in the interior arrangements, every thing belonging to the establishment of this barbaric lord being in keeping. The two principal tents were formed of scarlet and purple broad-cloth, one lined with yellow satin and the other with shawls, and edged and decorated with gold; their superb draperies being supported upon massy poles plated with gold, and richly chased. Two of the smaller pavilions were formed of crimson velvet, embroidered with gold in a rich pattern of lotus leaves; all the awnings were of scarlet cloth, the ropes of crimson silk, and the ground spread with carpets of the most costly description, some being of shawls, and others of yellow velvet, embroidered with crimson and gold.

The British camp, of course, shewed poor in comparison with that of a chief who seemed to have brought all Bokhara's vaunted gold, and all the gems of Samarcand, to the display; nevertheless, it was of a character befitting the representatives of a nation boasting more of internal riches than of outward show; and Runjeet Singh himself, in the midst of his glittering array, seemed much impressed with the appearance made by his British allies. The number of Europeans present, two king's corps, the 16th lancers, and the 31st regiment, being in the governor's train, appeared to give him both surprise and pleasure. He regarded these troops with evident astonishment, and remarked to those persons about him, that they were all so fair and young, they looked like gentlemen, comparing them to the sahibs of his acquaintance. He expressed himself also highly delighted with the whole of the troops, and with their movements as they went through the several evolutions after the most approved system of military tactics; and the review being ended, he ordered a largess, consisting of several mule-loads of rupees, to be distributed among the soldiers. However rapacious the maha-rajah may be in his character of sovereign, upon this occasion he displayed a truly prince-like liberality, presenting shawls and silk to every body who paid their respects to him. He also occasioned several of the soldiers and camp-followers, who had been induced by curiosity to reconnoitre the precincts of his tented fields, to be called before him, and dismissed them with handsome presents. He was much pleased with the equipments of the British soldiers, especially the lancers; and though it is impossible to say whether ears so well accustomed to the din and dissonance of native music could relish the more subdued harmony of our instrumental performers, he gave a thousand rupees to each of the bands accompanying Lord William's escort.

Runjeet Singh is at the head of the most warlike nation of the East, the Seiks being a brave and adventurous race, equalling the Rajpoots in their spirit and enterprise, and more fortunate in the independence of their sovereign, which permits them to follow the bent of their inclination in the pursuit of foreign conquests. The Seiks, or Singhs, are a modern sect of Hindoos, differing considerably from their more orthodox brethren, since they will eat the flesh of any animal, excepting that of the cow. These people are followers of Baba Nanuk, who several centuries ago founded the sect, into which he admitted converts of all denominations. The doctrines promulgated by this person have, however, been lost sight of in the lapse of ages, for he insisted upon the renunciation of idolatry, and the abolition of caste, directing the attention of his followers to the precepts of a book compiled by persons entering into these views, called the Adi Grunth. Baba Nanuk's converts were in the first instance denominated Seiks (disciples), and were a peaceable race, but being persecuted, their high-priest Govind, the tenth in descent, changed the appellation to that of Singh (lion), and called upon them to resist their oppressors, and take up the sword. Becoming warlike, and spreading themselves over the Punjab, they obtained possession of the whole country; but their religion has deteriorated. They now pay respect to caste, and, so far from retaining their former toleration, look scrupulously at the descent of those Hindoos with whom they eat.

Could Runjeet Singh transmit his dominions to a successor whose talents equalled his own, we might find our neighbours of the Punjab rather troublesome, but in all probability the government will fall to pieces as soon as the present head of it shall sleep with his fathers. Notwithstanding his apparent desire to maintain a good understanding with the Christian rulers of India, it is confidently asserted, that during the panic that prevailed in the north-western portion, when our army was before Bhurtpore, Runjeet Singh consulted the French officers in his service respecting the policy of invading the Company's provinces, and co-operating with the other native powers to drive the British out of India. In the event of a Russian invasion, he would in all probability take a decided part against us; but circumstances will change greatly upon his death, an event that may be expected at no very remote period. The decease of Runjeet Singh will give rise to three great parties; namely, that of the legitimate son, Kanuck Singh, that of Sheir Singh, governor of Cashmere, and that of Dahan Singh, the favourite. Possibly two of these parties will unite, but, at all events, great confusion and anarchy must prevail for a considerable period; every petty chief will turn marauder, and encroachments will take place on the territory of the protected states. The Indian government will have the choice of either taking possession of the Punjab, or keeping up an army of ten thousand men on the left bank of the Sutlej.

The army of Runjeet Singh has been disciplined under the command of two French officers of very distinguished merit, who have introduced the tactics and system of their own nation; and, in consequence, the French legion of cavalry, and the regular infantry, are said to be in a high state of field efficiency. Besides these troops, the Ghora Churrahs of the body guard, are, perhaps, the most effective regulars in India; their men are all Seiks of good family, and receive liberal pay; they are splendidly equipped, their arms, consisting of swords and matchlocks, being mounted in silver. There is also a Ghoorka battalion, and about four thousand irregular cavalry attached to the army. The artillery consists of sixty pieces of horse, and a hundred and twenty heavy guns; most of the latter being in the different forts. The Seik army moves rapidly, and all baggage is conveyed on camels, elephants, horses, and mules. The French legion of cavalry was entirely formed by General Allard, their system being that of the French lancers; the men are much attached to their commandant, and these troops only require a few more European officers, to be nearly on a par with our regular native cavalry. General Allard, a man of high character and conciliatory manners, was a distinguished officer in the imperial army of France; he adopted the Seik costume, allowed his beard to grow, and married a native woman. The regular infantry are under General Ventura, and are also disciplined in the French drill, the words of command being chiefly French; they are armed with firelocks and bayonets, and are regularly paid and clothed. General Ventura served under Eugene Beauharnois in Napoleon's Russian campaign; he is a brave, intelligent officer, but violent in his temper, and not popular in his manners.

Runjeet Singh's own personal body-guard consists of a kind of legion of honour, composed of picked men, arrayed in gorgeous dresses and rich armour, and considered to be the élité of the army. These troopers are all tried shots, and at eighty yards very seldom fail to hit a small brass pot with a matchlock. The horse artillery of Runjeet's army consists of guns of small calibre, and their field equipment resembles that of our late fort batteries, and consequently such field-pieces would be utterly unable to cope with our horse artillery; still, as these guns are drawn by horses, their fire would be always available, which is not the case with bullock artillery.

Runjeet Singh does not place implicit confidence in his European officers, keeping a watchful eye over them, and not unfrequently displaying marks of distrust. The ukhbars, or native newspapers of the Upper Provinces, are continually reporting misunderstandings said to have occurred between him and these gentlemen, and some authorities state that French influence is on the decline at Lahore, though others, again, lamenting over the prevalence of European opinions, say that Runjeet Singh, instead of being independent, is controlled by his own general, M. Allard. In fact, the fall of Bhurtpore has impressed the native mind with a belief that nothing can now withstand the British power—a conviction much strengthened by the courtesies shewn at Roopur by Runjeet Singh to the Company's Governor-General, which seemed to give an assurance that, notwithstanding the strength of his position, and the state of his army, he would do nothing to oppose the universal rule.

The Seik prince, though he has for some time languished in a precarious state of health, still holds out; but in consequence of the general expectation that the complaints which he labours under must shortly terminate his life, the disaffected chiefs, comprising all over whom he holds dominion, are believed to be secretly buckling on their armour for a struggle to regain the rights of which they have been deprived. The British government might take advantage of so favourable an opportunity to annex the Punjab to its territories, an object which could be effected without much cost of blood or treasure; but in all probability the India Company's rulers will recognize the eldest son as the rightful heir; and, in requital of a throne which he could not otherwise retain or keep, they might easily induce him to cede Cashmere, and the posts required on his portion of the Indus, in payment of a perpetual subsidy.

General Abstract of the Forts, Ordnance, and Army, of Maha-rajah Runjeet Singh.

Forts 10
Guns in ditto 108
Guns in Horse Artillery, commanded by Natives 58
Guns in Foot Artillery, commanded by Natives 142
Mortars 9
Toombrorahs, or swivel-guns, mounted on camels 305
Irregular Cavalry, commanded by Natives 43,300
Regular Cavalry, commanded by General Allard 5,200
Infantry commanded by three other French Officers 6,000
Infantry commanded by Native Officers 17,000
Golundauze 1,500
Grand total of the Army 73,000