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MRS. JOANNA BAILLIE.
PRINTED FOR PRIVATE CIRCULATION.
Spottiswoodes and Shat
The observations I have made in my preface to the
former legends, apply equally to this of Ahalya Baee.
I have added no fictitious circumstances to the story
or characters. I have only taken those liberties
regarding supposed feeling and description, which a
person detailing what he has in a general abridged
way, but with no intention of altering the truth,
naturally takes ; in short, the difference of the story
from a bare record, or from the story-teller when the
story-teller is warmed and interested by his subject.
It may perhaps be thought that, in representing the
daughter of Ahalya as so young at the time of her
brother's death, and soothing her mother's sorrow
with so many childish endearments, I have stepped
beyond this rule ; for we are told in another place
that she was already married. But when we con-
sider how very early betrothments take place in that
country, her being still as a child with her mother is
by no means inconsistent with that fact. That she
should be so amiable and affectionate, and that
Ahalya should be so strongly attached to her, agrees
well with what is related of her melancholy end and
her mother's behaviour on that dreadful occasion.
In all the descriptive passages regarding her popu-
larity, and the feelings even of the children towards
her, I think myself fully entitled to go as far as I
have done on Sir John Malcom's authority, though
no direct mention of children may there be found,
for their light warm hearts are ever ready for
grateful acclamation. It is their play and their pri-
vilege and propensity, which Providence has given
them for benevolent purposes. As the history of
this wise and good sovereign is given in the account
of Central India, necessarily intermingled with the
quarrels, and expeditions, and wars of all the native
princes bordering upon her dominions, it is difficult
to give any distinct view of what is immediately
belonging to herself; and it is only by descriptions of
what must naturally be supposed or taken for granted,
that an impressive idea can be given of her extra-
ordinary merits. Had graver historians been more
descriptive as to the different states and conditions
of the same country under a warlike and under a
peaceful sovereign, we should not so frequently hear
young people complain of a peaceful reign being so
dull, or, as the little boy said to his mother, " the
reigns of the wicked kings are so much prettier than
the reigns of the good kings."
That Sir John Malcom was powerfully charmed
by the character of Ahalya Baee, is very plain ; but
being jealous of his own partiality, and having there-
fore strictly examined into the truth of what is said
of her, which he from his high official situation had
every facility for doing, there cannot be any rea-
sonable cause for distrust, extraordinary and perfect
as her character appears.
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A VOICE from Sinai's sacred summit came,
What time, enrob'd and hid in smoke and flame,
Israel's assembled hosts the wonder saw
From its extended base, a sight of awe,
In stilly silence waiting to behold
What dreadful vision'd change it might unfold ;
With up-cast, pallid faces, shrunk with fear.
They stood, the awful words of God to hear :
They heard and felt that Israel's God alone
Is Lord of heaven and earth, and shares his power with
The terrors of that awful day, though past,
Have on the tide of time some glory cast ;
As when the sun, whom cloudy state conceals.
From his pavilion's curtain'd side reveals
Some scatter'd rays, that, through the general gloom,
Headland, or tower, or desert rocks illume :
So did that mighty revelation throw,
O'er Prophets, Judges, Seers, a feeble glow
Of pure religious light, and Judah's king
With psalms of praise made his smote harp to ring —
8 AHALYA BAEE.
A soul-reviving light, that did impart
Devotion's warmth to many a noble heart ;
Till He appear'd, in whom God's Spirit dwelt,
Unmeasur'd, and for helpless mortals felt
More than a brother's love, whose majesty,
Subdued and mild, struck not man's garish eye.
His mien, his motions, spoke of inward love —
His blessed words and acts of power above
All human excellence; — till, in the eternal name,
The Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of David came.
But deem not that the Parent of mankind,
Maker of all, hath to one race confin'd
The gifts his blessed Spirit can bestow
On all Earth's scatter'd nations here below.
His revelations to a chosen race
With pow'r were manifested, yet we trace
In the bewilder'd heathen's heart, who bows
To Idols dumb, and pays devoted vows
To Wood and Stone, a conscious inward feeling
Of higher things o'er heart and fancy stealing.
Perhaps a sudden quickening thought
Across his musings strangely brought ;
Aye, then God's Spirit with his soul is dealing.
And have not the philosopher and sage,
The generous and good of every age.
In silent hours of meditation high.
Contemplating the sun, the stars, and sky.
The earth, the ocean, — all that bounteous store
Of fair and good, — been strengthen'd to adore
One Mighty Lord and Parent of all good :
Nature's own worship, not to be withstood
By partial rites which heathen power imposed ?
And have not those to other minds disclos'd
Their elevated thoughts, and held communion
With kindred minds, — a blest, ennobling union ?
'Mid shepherd hordes, for ever changing
Their tented-homes, o'er deserts ranging ;
'Mid seamen on the ocean bred ;
'Mid bandits fierce on plunder fed ;
Wherever mental light hath shown
In circling darkness bright and lone.
As beacon on a distant hill
This message sends, though hush'd and still
The midnight air broods on the ear, —
" Gird on your mail, the foe is near ! " —
That is a mission'd light from heav'n,
By the Almighty Father giv'n.
And hath its sacred mission well fulfiU'd,
Although its path to trace we mortals are unskill'd.
Behold that female form so meekly bending
O'er a pale youth, who is the night-air rending
With many a sudden shriek, and many a cry
And lengthen'd groan of utter misery !
It is a regent Mother, one whose fate
By heav'n is fix'd to rule a warlike state ;
Who, by the laws or custom of the land,
Appointed is to hold supreme command.
Yet one of gentle mind, who had been meet
On Sion's hill to sit at her Redeemer's feet,
10 AHALYA BAEE.
And listen to His words with humble love.
And see His looks benign her pious heart approve.
But she hath been in heathen darkness nurs'd,
Hath been with much misguiding lore accurst,
Which with the worship of one God supreme
Had woven in full many an odious dream.
Vague and perplexing seem'd her future doom :
Her present world is dark, and darker that to come.
Close in her own his burning hands she prest ^,
And to some pow'r unseen were words like these
" Leave him, fierce Spirit of th' unhallow'd dead !
O, let him rest awhile his wretched head !
O, quit possession of his wasted frame !
Nor with his lips and alter'd voice blaspheme
To bring down blasting vengeance from the skies ;
Upon him now enough of misery lies.
He slew thee wrongfully, and for that deed
Remorse has dealt to him a fearful mead.
It was the sudden act of jealous youth : —
He was deceiv'd, and could not know the truth.
But he has tried to make amends ; rich stores
He on thy widow and thy children pours.
An honourable tomb shall give to fame
With graven record thy unsullied name.
O from this wretched body, Spirit dire !
Come forth ; what does thy fell revenge require ?
Can all his misery, can all his pain,
E'er make thyself a living man again ? "
AHALYA BAEE. 11
Thus day and night full many tears she shed,
And watch'd and pray'd and struggl'd by his bed.
Whene'er his fiercest, wildest fits prevail'd ;
But neither watching, prayers, nor tears avail'd.
At length deep silence through the palace reign'd,
And for a solemn term its rule maintain'd.
The dire disease its cruel task hath done ;
The princely stripling's mortal course is run.
What lamentations, mingl'd, loud, and shrill.
Did courts and halls and stately chambers fill,
Bursting from that deep silence and repose,
We say not, but the scene of sadness close.
The corse is on its pyle consum'd.
The bones within their urn inhum'd.
But the sad Mother, so bereft,
Had she no tie of comfort left ?
Yes, heav'n extremes of woe restrain'd ;
One little Daughter yet remain'd.
She to console her Mother tried.
And play'd and prattl'd by her side.
Her own soft cheek to hers she laid,
And simple words of kindness said
Right coaxingly, that sometimes broke
The spell of grief; a gentle stroke
Slow sliding down her Mother's arm,
Repeated oft, work'd like a charm ;
Then would her dark eyes glance around
To see what farther comfort might be found.
With feather'd fan she cool'd her brow,
And when the tears began to flow,
12 AHALYA BAEE.
Her small hand plied its kerchief well,
And softly wip'd them as they fell.
Her fingers next, belike, would try
The Ranie's raven locks in braids to tye,
That, like torn, tangl'd wreaths, from altars flung,
Dishevell'd, o'er her stooping shoulders hung.
Aye, every simple, youthful, winning art
This gentle creature us'd to sooth the wounded heart.
Nor was that simple ministry in vain ;
Her Mother's heart was sooth'd, and she again
Caress'd her little Maid, as heretofore.
And dearly lov'd her in her bosom's core.
But Brahma to her care consign'd
A family of far other kind, —
Of various castes, a mingl'd brood,
Dull and untoward, fierce and rude ;
And she must brace her for the task,
Nor leave of tenderer passions ask.
Offers of large possessions to resign ^
The right of sov'reignty did she decline
Indignantly, with duty still in view
To her own house, and to her people true ;
And gave effect to her determination
With prompt display of warlike preparation.
Each soldier of her race, with glancing eyes,
Upon her elephant's arm'd howdah spies
Quivers with arrows stor'd, and bows unstrung.
Just ready for the bent, in order hung.
That to their warm devoted hearts declare,
She will with them their fate and dangers share.
AHALYA BAEE. 13
Yet, in his place, whose hapless race is run,
She must adopt another heir and son,
That in his settl'd right she still may guide
The councils of the state, — may still preside.
The careful regent Mother, over all.
And to her aid, troops, chieftains, Brahmins call.
And hath she chosen wilily
An Infant on the Nurse's knee,
Whose lengthen'd nonage may maintain
O'er subject lands her settl'd reign,
As prudent Ranies who pursue
One selfish end are wont to do ?
O no ! her noble nature spurn'd ^
Such narrow thoughts ; her choice she turn'd
Upon a soldier tried and brave,
Faithful of heart and firm to save
The country from all threaten'd wrong
By hostile Raj as- fierce and strong ;
Of generous nature too, who fought
Beneath a woman's rule, nor sought
Undue extension of his pow'r.
Her active champion, till her dying hour.
He call'd her Mother, though his life had run
More years by far than hers — a true and noble son.
Of Holkar's valiant race was he,
Though somewhat distant in degree.
But no suspicions e'er found way
To her most generous mind, which lay
In steady confidence, reposing
On his tried worth, nor once disclosing,
14 AHALYA BAEE.
By word or look, an inward doubt
Of his fidelity throughout
A lengthen'd course of years, in which he serv'd
Nobly his noble Dame, nor from strict duty swerv'd.
They were a state-constructed Son and Mother,
A blessed twain, each worthy of the other ;
United firmly to their native land,
She the considerate head, and he the ready hand.
War on her distant frontiers, never ending.
Was wag'd by chiefs for booty still contending
Ev'n more than power ; but round her seat of sway.
Peaceful and bright, a charmed circle lay.
There she the even scales of justice held.
And all oppressive wrong and faction quell'd.
There to her subjects, of whate'er degree.
It was, I trow, a joyous sight to see ^
Their noble Baee her seat of judgment fill.
Dispensing justice with impartial skill.
They gather'd round her unrestrain'd.
Buoyant and happy if they gain'd
Such words of her sonorous speech.
As might their distant station reach ;
Some looks of meaning from her eye.
While perjur'd knaves, belike, would try
A simple statement to perplex.
The poor unwary hind to vex.
And, if no better they might have,
Ev'n o'er the crowd to see her wave
Her little hand with queenly grace,
Warm'd the good Ryot's heart and gleam'd his dusky face.
AHALYA BAEE. 15
The children rais'd a joyous cry,
When from afar they could descry
Her palanquin so gay and bright,
By coolies borne — a burden light !
And cluster'd in the narrowest lane
To see her pass with all her train ;
And urchins dar'd aloud to call,
" She is our Mother, and she loves us all."
The Parrei and the meanest hind
Did to her presence access find ;
To her might tell with much detail
His wearisome and lengthy tale,
Circuitous and slow, nor fear
To tire her patient ear.
But when she question'd him again
To make the knotted matter plain,
Away would awe and caution wend !
He felt conversing with a friend.
And her shrew'd mind, the while, quick to discern
The human character, did useful knowledge learn.
"Woe, want, and suff'ring to assuage ^
Would still her daily thoughts engage ;
On this her mind was most intent.
She knew she was by Brahma sent ;
For works of mercy, by her hand
To be dispens'd through all the land.
He had committed to her care.
Nor might she toil or trouble spare.
She thought upon the pilgrim's woes,
Who over plain and mountain goes,
16 AHALYA BAEE.
His sinking steps, his visage gaunt,
And eager glare of hungry want,
His still increasing hourly pain,
Ere he may reach his Idol's distant fane.
She thought upon wayfaring strangers,
Braving of wood and wild the dangers,
Who yet by thirst subdu'd are found
Stretch'd fainting on the parched ground.
She thought of age and infancy
Left on the river's brink to die :
Yea, ev'n on animals her thoughts would dwell,
Who have no words their sufferings to tell.
And still to kindly thoughts succeed
Full many a charitable deed ;
Her agents watch'd the pilgrim's track,
To give him what his need might lack ;
From river's weedy margin took the child,
And bade the aged live in accents mild.
They caravansaras would build.
Poor strangers from the night to shield.
And many a well and cooling tank
Upon the traveller's route they sank.
The thirsty oxen in the plough.
See help at hand, and stop to bow
Their heads unto the trough beneath.
And drink the welcome draught with seething, long-
Upon her heart they had their claim,
Yea, Ahalya Baee ev'n cared for them.
AHALYA BAEE. 17
And here with humble zeal I must disclose
A further bounty, strange, belike, to those.
Who in a better, purer faith were born :
Yet pause awhile, I pray, and check your scorn ;
Ye who acknowledge freely your descent
From those, in former days, who humbly bent
At shrines of many a carv'd and gilded saint —
Aye, saints who, when their earthly race was run,
Full many a black and ruthless deed had done ;
Will ye despise the simple blinded zeal
Which now my truthful legend must reveal ?
Water, in vessels closely pent,
From Ganges' sacred waves she sent
The holy idols to bedew,
And at their shrines her vows would oft renew.
Brahma, supreme o'er all above,
She did as humble daughter love ;
And other gods, set by his will
O'er Hindus' race for good or ill.
She would invoke, at needful hours^
Subordinate but awful powers.
Fell powers, who rul'd in nether air,
Who bade War's weapons kill or spare ;
Sent pestilence, all human joy
To blast, to poison, and destroy, —
Those still she tried her friends to make,
For her own weal, and for her people's sake.
With wise and learned Brahmins to converse,
To hear them many lines of lore rehearse ;
And from the sacred shasters to recite
Maxims, and rules, and laws, was her delight ;
18 AHALYA BAEE,
And raany a solemn, wide-sleev'd sage, I ween.
Was in her special courtly circle seen,
Mingl'd with stately chiefs of high degree.
And watchful, wary scribes, and merchants free.
But ne'er a Brahmin of them all
Could win her for his blinded thrall,
Could e'er her noble mind persuade
To do what inward rectitude forbade.
And if from district far or near.
Some fact of ruthless rapine reach'd her ear.
Or base oppression to the poor.
Who must too oft such grievous wrong endure,
How quickly did her alter'd brow^,
Her inward indignation show !
Nor durst the boldest culprits dare
To front her presence ; and if there
They were at her imperious call assembl'd,
The bravest chief and holiest Brahmin trembl'd.
Her countenance, so mild by nature.
Grew sternly fix'd in ev'ry feature ;
Her dark eye flash'd like kindl'd leaven
Sent from a rifted cloud of heav'n ;
Her stature low and figure slight.
Strangely dilated grew, and grand.
Like ruling spirit of the night.
Through misty vapour seen, by some benighted band.
Her voice, whose tones so kindly sweet.
Made widows' hearts with gladness beat.
Is now a sound of awe and fear.
Swelling like onward thunder to the ear ;
In sooth, a strange, unwonted sound to hear !
AHALYA BAEE» |9
It was her solace and her pride
O'er peaceful districts to preside.
And keep around, remote or nigh,
Her country in prosperity.
Erewhile, her blessed reign before^.
It was a country to deplore ;
Where war and bloodshed, want and strife.
Had made a hell for human life.
Chiefs were by turns or weak or strong,
All interlac'd in deeds of wrong ;
Fiercely attacking town and village,
And fenced forts for sordid pillage ;
Treasure they did so vainly reap,
Which all could gain, but none could keep.
He who to-day had home and hold.
Grain on his fields, sheep in his fold,
To-morrow with his family fled.
And had not where to lay his head.
He who to-day hath kept his state
In princely hall where menials wait,
May soon in ruin'd haunts abide,
Or in the perilous jungle hide,
Where foul and fair are side by side ;
A place of fear and admiration. There
The brindled tiger in his reedy lair,
Purrs gruffly, while aloft is singing
The Loorie gay, on light spray swinging ;
There oft the baleful snake is seen.
Through flow'ry slopes and thickets green,
Where roses blush and blossoms blow.
And lilies sweet profusely grow,
20 AHALYA BAEE
Moving his sluggish, lothly length,
Then rearing up his stiffen'd strength,
At moving prey to take his aim.
And swaith and crush the vital frame.
Horsemen and spearmen o*er the plains
In dusky masses mov'd, while trains
Of heavy cannon in the rear,
By harnessed bullocks dragged, appear ;
And high, belike, above the crowd,
Upon his elephant some chieftain proud.
Sits stately, though less rational in nature
Than that on which he rides, — a noble sapient creature.
But now, how chang'd ! Upon the frontiers far
Her brave adopted son wag^d ceaseless war
With every restless robber-chief who dar'd
Her rightful boundary to invade, and spar'd
The centre districts. Peaceful, still, and bright.
They gleam'd on the admiring stranger's sight,
Like green oases of some desert land,
Encircl'd round with brown and barren sand ;
As many learned travellers indite
Who of far distant countries love to write ;
For all, within the guarded girdle bound.
Were peace and wealth, content and comfort found.
The Ryot plough'd his native soil, —
His Father's fields, a pleasing toil ;
Who, as he guides his sturdy steers.
With kindly voice their labour cheers ;
For well he knows the produce will
In season due his garner fill, —
AHALYA BAEE. 21
Will, on his quiet, daily board
Food for his mate and little ones afford.
Beside her door the Matron stands
And deftly draws, with busy hands.
The snowy yarn from distaff tall.
For turban fine, or gorgeous shawl.
The weaver plies his useful trade,
In humid cell beneath the shade,
Through the strain'd warp his shuttle throws,
And as his web more lengthy grows.
Thinks of the golden price that will be paid
When in the throng'd bazaars its beauty is display'd.
In flow'ry nooks the children play,
Or through the shady copses stray
In quest of fruit ; while from the bough
Offended monkeys grin and mowe.
The gentle Lady, all bedight.
In gilded palanquin so bright,
Goes forth secure, on visit kind
Or ceremonious, to some distant friend ;
Nor fears that on her lengthened way
She may become some lurking bandit's prey.
But wherefore needless word encrease ?
With wise and equal rule the land was bless'd — and
But who through life's uncertain day hath run
With still, o'er head, a clear unclouded sun ?
When noon is past he hears the tempest roar.
And on his shoulders pelting torrents pour.
The weary pilgrim rests him void of fear.
Unwitting of the lurking tiger near.
22 AHALYA BAEE.
The loaded raft floats smoothly on the tide,
Though fatal rocks beneath the waters hide ;
And when the steersman thinks he nears the shore,
A stroke is felt, — they sink, and rise no more.
Our Ranie, as this legend soothly said %
Had, for her solace sweet, a little Maid.
Her after-lot was bright ; one happy scene
Of married love her easy life had been.
But now, alas ! her happiness is flown ;
Death has o'er all his sable mantle thrown.
Whom see we now within that spacious room,
Where rests an ominous and dismal gloom ?
She, seated by yon deck'd and rose-strew'd bier.
Who neither heaves a sigh nor sheds a tear ;
She stooping over her and gently speaking,
To stem her wayward sorrow vainly seeking ?
The one is Ahalya's widow'd child ;
The other is herself, compos'd and mild,
Trying the fatal purpose to avert —
Compos'd, indeed, but with a bleeding heart.
Aye, all in vain her gentle words ; for hear
What words of woe her tardy answers bear.
" O Mother, do not grieve me so.
My lot is cast, and I must go.
Shall Jeswunt Row, my noble mate.
On pyre be laid in lonely state,
While I, who was the only flow'r
He watch'd and cherish'd in his bow'r,
A craven wife, shall from the brink
Of love's last trial meanly shrink ?
Forbid it, Brahma, Lord above!
Forbid it, faithfulness and love ! *' —
AHALYA BAEE. 23
" And dost thou think that Brahma's will
I did not righteously fulfil,
When I, bereft and sad, did strive
Thy noble Father to survive ?
And was not his high blessing pour'd
On one so sever'd from her Lord ?
And characters, distinct and fair.
Did his approval well declare,
When flourishing beneath my sway
My people and my kingdom lay*
Yes ; though a widow, so bereft.
My heart had other blessings left.
But still, as ceird within my breast.
Thou wert my dearest and my best ;
Thou wert as my own youngling still.
Who didst my first affections filL
And wilt thou leave me sad and lone ?
How shall I live when thou art gone ?
Whom shall I fondly love and trust ?
O, do not bow me to the dust ! " —
*' O no ! committed to thy care,
Thou hast thy children every where.
Their daily benefits will be
The comfort Brahma sends to thee.
And, dearest Mother ! thou art old —
Thy grains of life will soon be told ;
And what to me will then remain ?
My Lost will ne'er return again !
I through these lonely rooms shall roam
A living thing, whose heart hath with the dead its home.
Then, best and dearest, to my passion bend.
And let my sorrows have an honour*d end." —
; » 4
24 AHALYA BAEE.
" An honour d end will close her life,
Who was a good and faithful wife ;
Die when she will, the funeral flame
Gives but a fruitless fleeting fame," —
" I seek not fame, O say not so !
O, add not agony to woe !
Life would be death to me, and worse :
The inward working of remorse
Would make my day as darkness seem,
My haunted night a fearful dream.
For then he would be ever near.
And his upbraiding eyes appear
To glare upon a w^ife, whose love
Could not one moment rise above
Base fears, but from her last sad duty started
And left his lonely bier unhonour'd and deserted.'
All interchange of words were vain —
The Ranie answered not again ;
But long fix'd looks of anguish fell
Upon her Daughter's face, and well
Spoke that which language could not tell ;
While actions too did piteously entreat,
The Mother kneeling at her Daughter's feet : —
But all in vain ; nought may arrest
The purpose of her wounded breast.
The parent bent her to the cruel blow,
And left the dismal chamber sad and slow.
And, closely shut within her secret bowV,
With humble penitence and pray'r
Did her afflicted soul prepare
For the approaching, dreadful hour ;
AIIALYA BAEE. 25
Her pray'rs were heard, and mercy gave
A stinted strength the dreadful hour to brave.
That hour is come ; and from the palace gate
There issues forth, in melancholy state,
A gorgeous pageant. — Standards borne on high,
Mov'd by the fanning air, arrest the eye,
On which devices, trac'd in colours gay,
Emblems of ranks and races make display.
First portly Brahmins, sombre and profound.
Walk, loosely rob'd, with eyes cast on the ground.
Next turban'd chiefs, with fierce and warlike mien,
Cinctur'd with shawls and flashing arms, are seen ;
Then high authorities, the letter'd scribe,
And missioned men from many a different tribe,
Move slowly on, all rang'd in sad array,
Proceeding on their mournful, destin'd way,
With heavy steps, that from the ground
Send up a muffl'd, sullen sound.
Then doth from portal-arch appear,
Circl'd by friends, the stately bier,
On which the princely corse is laid.
In rich and splendid robes array'd,
Whose features, like to chisel'd stone,
Do still an awful beauty own.
The crowd on him intently gaze
And deeply murmur words of praise.
Anon they drop their eyes to find
The youthful Widow, close behind.
She mov'd, with brow and step sedate,
As one who of her lifeless mate
26 AHALYA BAEE.
Alone had conscious thoughts, and she
Worthy appear'd his mate to be.
But when by priestly Brahmins stern and strong,
They saw their own lov'd Eanie led along,
On her at once all eager eyes were turn'd,
And grateful sympathy within each bosom burn'd :
Their inward sorrow broke through all restraint,
And all around a loud and mingl'd wailing sent.
Now onward as the long procession goes,
A diff'rent mournful harmony arose
From many instruments, whose mingl'd sound
Is floating on the air, and rising from the ground.
But when it reach'd the fatal spot,
All soft excitement was forgot :
A deep and solemn pause ensu'd.
Silence with strange mysterious awe embu'd.
Alas ! what measur'd words can tell
The anguish of their last farewell ?
When that young Widow with that Mother parted ?
From the intense embrace the younger started,
As if afraid. Her failing steps sustain'd,
The bier of death she has already gain'd,
Hath on her lap with gentle kindness plac'd
The lifeless head, and its cold form embrac'd.
To the heap'd pile the torch hath been applied,
And from between the faggots are discried
Pale curving streams of smoke, that wind and sweep.
Coil and uncoil, like serpents wak'd from sleep,
Then broad'ning and ascending hang on high,
A dusky, fearful canopy ;
AHALYA BAEE. 2?
While pointed tongues of flame belo\^
Burst forth ; and soon one gen'ral glow
Involves in fierce consuming fire,
Koaring and red, the funeral pyre.
Then drum and trumpet, cymbal, gong
And stringed viols, harsh and strong,
Discordant minstrelsy, begin
To raise a loud and deaf ning din ;
While faintly comes to fancy's ear
Shrieks from the burning bier.
Aye, there are dismal shrieks, I wot,
But from the flames proceeding not.
'Tis Ahalya in despair,
Who, though by friendly force restrain'd,
Convulsively hath freedom gain'd,
And beats her breast and tears her hair.
Her gnashing teeth and bleeding hand
Too plainly show that self-command
Is from her princely spirit taken.
Of all its wonted power forsaken.
And pause we here ! That noble mind
To dull unconsciousness was for a while consign'd.
But heaven's all-merciful and potent Lord
To health of mind the Eanie soon restor'd.
He rais'd again her drooping head ;
From him received, as from the dead,
The people saw their noble Dame,
And bade her hail with loud and long acclaim.
Still wasteful war, though raging round,
Within her precincts was not found.
28 AHALYA BAEE.
The husbandman scarce turn'd his ear
Some far-off tale of blood to hear,
How bandits, on the distant border.
With bandits strove in wild disorder ;
Where sordid chiefs to robbers turn'd,
Made might their right, and justice spurn'd :
What cares he for their ceaseless coil ?
She lives and reigns who will protect his toil.
In sooth, o'er all the watch she kept 9,
And wak'd, and thought, when others slept.
When early dawn appear'd, she rose,
Nor longer would indulge repose.
But to herself (for she could read)
Grave books perus'd. Then would succeed
Hours of reflection and of pray'r.
That clear'd her mind and sooth'd her care ;
And oft her day, so well begun,
An easy, prosp'rous course would run.
Herself sagacious, firm, and just.
She put in others gen'rous trust ;
And when their merit well was prov'd.
Her ministers she ne'er remov'd.
With all the Rajah pow'rs of ev'ry nation.
From time to time, she held communication :
Could points of policy with art contest.
But ever lov'd the simple method best.
And in good sooth, to reason cool.
The. simplest was the wisest rule.
For who would venture to gainsay
Or doubt the faith of Ahalya Baee ?
AHALYA BAEE. 29
To Death at last the mission'd power was giv'n
To call her hence ; her earthly ties were riv'n.
Through all the land a woeful wailing went.
From cot to cot, from town to village sent :
A tender woe, like which there is no other, —
Bereaved children weeping for a mother.
Her life and reign were clos'd in glory,
And thus concludes my Legend's faithful story.
For thirty years — her reign of peace —
The land in blessings did encrease ;
And she was bless'd by every tongue.
By stern and gentle, old and young.
And where her works of love remain.
On mountain pass, on hill or plain,
There stops the traveller a while.
And eyes it with a mournful smile.
With mutt'ring lips, that seem to say,
" This was the work of Ahalya Baee."
The learned Sage, who loves to muse,
And many a linked thought pursues,
Says to himself, and heaves a sigh
For things to come and things gone by.
" O that our restless chiefs, by misr'y school'd,
Would rule their states as that brave woman rul'd !'*
Yea, even children at their mothers' feet.
Are taught such homely rhyming to repeat ; —
" In better days, from Brahma came.
To rule our land, a noble Dame ;
Kind was her heart, and bright her fame.
And Ahalya was her honour'd name."
Note 1. page 10.
" Close in her own his burning hands she prest,
And to some povSr unseen were words like these addrest^
See in the first volume of Sir John Malcom's Central India,
" He (the son of Ahalya Baee) had had slain in a jealous fury
an embroiderer, who, he believed, had formed an intimacy with
a female servant of his family. The innocence of the man was
established, and remorse for the crime brought on so severe a
paroxysm of madness in Mallee Row, as to alarm all for his
life. It is a confirmed belief with many of the natives of India,
that departed spirits have, on some occasions, the power of
seizing upon and destroying the living. It was rumoured that
the embroiderer was a man with supernatural power ; that he
warned Mallee Row not to slay him, or he would take horrible
vengeance ; and the ravings of the latter were imputed to the
person he had murdered, and who, according to their prepos-
terous belief, now haunted him in the form of a Jin or Demon.
Ahalya Baee, satisfied of this fact, used to sit days and nights
by the bed of her afilicted son, holding communion, as she
thought, with the spirit that possessed him, and who spoke to
her through his organs. She shed tears in abundance, and
passed whole hours in prayer. In the hope of soothing the
Demon, she offered to build a temple to the deceased, and to
settle an estate upon his family if he would only leave her son.
But all was in vain ; a voice still seemed to answer, " He slew
me innocent, and I will have his life." Such is the popular
tale of the death of Mallee Row ; an event that only merits
notice as connected with the history of Ahalya Baee, whom it
compelled to come forward to save the ruin of the interests of
the family she represented, and to exhibit, in the person of a
female, that combined talent, virtue, and energy, which made
her, while she lived, a blessing to the country over which she
ruled, and has associated her memory with every plan of im-
provement and just government in the province of Malwa.
Note 2. page 12.
" Offers of large possessions to resign."
See Sir J. Malcom's Central India, p. 160. —
" The daughter of Ahalya Baee had been married into
another family, and could therefore, according to Hindoo
usage, have no claim to participate in the administration of
Holkar sovereignty. Under these circumstances, Gunghadur
Jeswunt, the Brahmin Minister of the late Mulhar Row,
strongly recommended that some child (distantly related to the
family) should be adopted to succeed Mallee Row ; a plan
which would have secured his authority as minister. This
proposition was combined with the offer of a large separate
provision for Ahalya Baee, whose abilities were admitted, but
her sex objected to as a disqualification for the conducting of
public affairs. Gunghadur, at the same time, proposed to give
a considerable sum to Ragobah Duda, in the event of his
agreeing to the arrangement and promoting its execution.
This venal chief gave a ready assent to the measure ; and his
concurrence was considered by the minister so conclusive, that
he waited upon Alialya Baee ; completely assured that, if other
motives failed, a despair of successful resistance would compel
her to acquiesce : but he soon discovered his error* He was
told at once, by this high-minded woman, that his plan was
disgraceful to the house of Holkar, and should never have her
consent." * * * " Xhe heirs of Mulhar Row, she said,
were extinct on the death of her son, and she had, as wife and
mother of the two last representatives of the family, the ex-
clusive privilege of selecting the successor ; and that just claim
slie was resolved at all hazards to maintain. It is probable
that Ahalya Baee had not only also consulted with her own
principal adherents, but with the Mahratta military chiefs who
were in Malwa when these events occurred. Her whole con-
duct, however, at this crisis of her fortune and of the Holkar
government, showed that her resolution had been seriously
taken, and would be firmly maintained. On hearing that
Ragobah was making preparations to compel her, she sent him
a message not to make war on a woman, from which he might
incur disgrace, but could never derive honour. She added, to
give eflfect to this remonstrance, every preparation for hostilities.
The troops of Holkar evinced enthusiasm in her cause, and she
made a politic display of her determination to lead them to
combat in person, by directing four bows, with quivers full of
arrows, to be fitted to the corners of the howdah, or seat, of her
Note 3. page 13.
" O no ! her noble nature spurned
Such narrow thoughts ; her choice she turned
Upon a soldier tried and brave,'' &c.
See Sir J. Malcom's Central India, p. 163. —
" She selected for the commander of her army, and to fulfil
those duties which as a female she could not perform, Tuckajee
Holkar, a chief of tlie same tribe, but no way related to Mulhar
Row. Tuckajee was highly esteemed as a soldier by that chief,
and commanded the Pagah or household troops ; and, before he
had reached his present power, had established a character, which
he maintained through life, of a plain unaffected Mahratta sol-
dier." * * * * " The divided authority established in the
Holkar state from the day of Tuckajee's elevation had a character
which, judging from common rules, was not likely to admit of
its subsisting a week ; but it remained for above thirty years,
undisturbed by jealousy or ambition. This is to be ascribed to
the virtue and moderation of the parties, to their respect for
each other, and to their having distinct, and, generally speaking,
distant spheres of action." * * * ♦ u jjg ^g^g more than
obedient : he was dutifiil, and all his actions were directed to
please and conciliate the princess, to whom he was solely in-
debted for his high station. He constantly called her mother ;
but, as she was much younger than him, this relation was not
engraved upon his seal. On that he was styled, by her command,
' Tuckajee, the son of Mulhar Row Holkar.' " After various
details of the regulation of their united government. Sir John
proceeds thus : — "It appears, from what has been related, that
Ahalya Baee was the actual head of the government ; and
Tuckajee, gratified by his high station and her complete con-
fidence, continued, during her life, to exercise no duties beyond
those of commander-in-chief of the army and the collector of
the revenues that his vicinity enabled him to realise with
more convenience than any other agent of her administration.
The servants of the Holkar government, who filled offices at
the period, speak all the same language ; and, with every dis-
position to praise Tuckajee, strengthened by his grandson being
on the throne, they never go higher in their eulogium than to
say, that he fulfilled all the expectations of Ahalya Baee, and
was to the last hour of his existence attentive, faithful, and
Note 4. page 14.
" It loas^ I trow^ a joyous sight to see
Their noble Baee her seat of judgment fill, ^
See Sir J. Malcom*s Central India, p. 175. —
" It is not common with the Hindus (unless in those pro-
vinces where they have learnt the degrading usage from their
Mahomedan conquerors) to confine females, or to compel them
to wear veils. The Mahrattas of rank (even the Brahmins)
have, with few exceptions, rejected the custom, which is not
prescribed by any of their religious institutions. Ahalya Baee,
therefore, offended no prejudice when she took upon herself
the direct management of affairs ; and sat every day, for a con-
siderable period, in open Durbar, transacting business. Her
first principle of government appears to have been moderate
assessment, and an almost sacred respect for the native rights
of village officers and proprietors of land. She heard every
complaint in person; and, although she continually referred
causes to courts of equity and arbitration, and to her ministers
for settlement, she was always accessible; and so strong was
her sense of duty on all points connected with the distribution
of justice, that she is represented as not only patient but un-
wearied in the investigation of the most insignificant causes,
when appeals were made to her decision."
Note 5. page 15.
" Woe, want, and suffering to assuage.
Would still her daily thoughts engage.''''
See Sir J. Malcom's Central India, p. 186. —
" The correspondence of Ahalya Baee extended to the most
remote parts of India. It was generally carried on through
Brahmins, who were the agents of her pious munificence, which
was as unexampled as it was unbounded. When the treasures
of Holkar came into her possession, she is stated to have ap-
propriated them, by the performance of a religious ceremony
(common with Hindus), to the purposes of charity and good
works. She built several forts ; and at that of Jauns con-
structed a road, with great labour and cost, over the Vind-
hyaranga, where it is almost perpendicular. She expended
considerable sums in religious edifices at Mhysir, and built
many temples, DhurmsuUas (or places of rest for travellers),
and wells throughout the Holkar possessions in Malwa. But
her munificence was not limited to her own territories ; at all
the principal places of Hindu pilgrimage, including as far east
and west as Juggernath in Cuttack, &c., and as far north as
Redumath, among the snowy mountains of Himalaya, and south
as Rumeserm, she built holy edifices, maintained establish-
ments, and sent annual sums to be distributed in charity."
* * * ♦ « Jq addition to this charity, she occasionally be-
stowed presents ; and nothing added more to her fame in the
southern regions of the peninsula, than the constant supply of
Ganges' water which she was in the habit of sending to wash
the sacred images of the different temples. Extensive and
pious donations probably proceeded from a sincere belief in her
religion, and a desire to promote her own and her country's
welfare by propitiating the favour of the deities she worshipped ;
but we find in many of her observances and institutions a spirit
of charity which had the truest character of wisdom and bene-
volence. She daily fed the poor ; and on particular festivals
gave entertainments to the lowest classes. During the hot
months of the year, persons were stationed on the roads to
supply travellers with water ; and at the commencement of the
cold season she gave clothes to great numbers of her dependants
and infirm people. Her feelings of general humanity were
often carried to an extraordinary excess. The beasts of the
field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the river shared in
her compassion ; portions of food were allotted to them ; and
the peasant near Mhysir used in hot days to see his yoke of
oxen stopped during their labour to be refreshed with water,
brought by the servants of Ahalya Baee ; while fields she had
purchased were covered with flocks of birds that had been
justly, as Ahalya Baee used to observe, driven by cultivators
from destroying the grain on which the latter depended for
their own sustenance." — "We may smile at such universal
sympathy, * * * * and wasted the treasures of the state
in the erection and maintenance of edifices in distant lands ; but
it was well asked by an intelligent Brahmin, to whom this
remark was addressed, ' Whether Ahalya Baee, by spending
double the sum on an army that she did in charity and good
works, could have preserved her country for above thirty years
in a state of profound peace, while she rendered her subjects
happy and herself adored? No person (he added) doubts the
sincerity of her piety ; but, if she had merely possessed worldly
wisdom, she could have devised no means so admirably cal-
culated to efiect the object.'"
Note 6. page 18.
'''■How quickly did her alter' d brow
" • ', Her inwa?'d indignation show ! "
See Sir J. Malcom's Central India, p. 192. —
^' She was very cheerful, and seldom in anger ; but, when
provoked by wickedness or crime, the most esteemed of her
attendants trembled to approach her." Sir John adds, in a note
to the above passage : " Baramut Dada, the venerable manager
of Mhysir, who was for many years one of her favourite servants,
assured me that when really in anger, which was of rare occur-
rence, her countenance struck terror into the minds of the
Note 7. page 19.
" Erewhile^ her blessed reign before^
It was a country to deplore.^''
See the account given by Sir John Malcom of the many
feuds and petty wars of rapine and pillage, so unceasingly
carried on with one another, previous to his details regarding
the house of Holkar and Ahalya Baee.
Note 8. page 22.
" Our Ranie, as this legend soothly said,
Had, for her solace sweet, a little Maid."
See Sir J. Malcom's Central India, p. 190. —
" An event occurred in the latter years of Ahalya Baee of
too interesting and afflicting a nature to be passed over in
silence. The melancholy death of her only son, Malee Row,
has been noticed. She had besides one daughter, Muchta
Baee, who was married, and had one son, who, after reaching
manhood, died at Mhysir. Twelve months afterwards his
father died, and Muchta Baee declared, immediately, her in-
tention to burn with the corpse of her husband. No efforts
(short of coercion) that a mother and a sovereign could use
were untried by the virtuous Ahalya Baee to dissuade her
daughter from the fatal resolution. She humbled herself to
the dust before her, and entreated her, as she revered her God,
not to leave her desolate and alone upon the earth. Muchta
Baee, although affectionate, was calm and resolved. ' You are
old, mother,' (she said) ' and a few years will end your pious
life. My only child and husband are gone, and when you
follow, life, I feel, will be insupportable, but the opportunity of
terminating it with honour will then have passed.' Ahalya
Baee, when she found all dissuasion unavailing, determined to
witness the last dreadful scene. She walked in the procession,
and stood near the pile, where she was supported by two
Brahmins, who held her arms. Although obviously suffering
great agony of mind, she remained tolerably firm till the first
blaze of the flame made her lose all self-command ; and while
her shrieks increased the noise made by the exulting shouts of
the immense multitude that stood around, she was seen to
gnaw in anguish those hands she could not liberate from the
persons by whom she was held. After some convulsive efforts,
6he so far recovered as to join in the ceremony of bathing in the
Nerbudda, when the bodies were consumed. She then retired
to her palace, where, for three days, having taken hardly any
sustenance, she remained so absorbed in grief that she never
uttered a word. When recovered from this state, she seemed
to find consolation in building a beautiful monument to the
memory of those she lamented."
Note 9. page 28.
" In sooth, o'er all the watch she kept.
And waKd, and thought, when others slept.'''
See Sir J. Malcom's Central India, p. 192. —
" Ahalya Baee died at the age of sixty, worn out with care
and fatigue; and, according to some, she hastened her death
by a too strict observance of the numerous fasts prescribed by
her religion. She was of a middle stature, and very thin.
Though at no period of her life handsome, her complexion,
which was dark olive, was clear ; and her countenance is de-
scribed as having been, to the last hour of her existence,
agreeable, and expressive of that goodness which marked every
action of her life." * * * * "The mind of this extra-
ordinary woman had been more cultivated than is usual with
Hindus : she could read and understand the Puranas, or sacred
books, which were her favourite study. She is represented as
having been singularly quick and clear in the transaction of
public business. Her husband was killed before she was twenty
years of age, and to that misfortune were added the vice and
insanity of her son. These afflictions made a strong impression
on her mind. After her husband's death, she never wore
coloured clothes nor any jewels except a small necklace ; and,
indeed, remained amid every temptation unchanged in her
habits and character. Flattery even appears to have been lost
on Ahalya Baee. A Brahmin wrote a book in her praise, which
she heard read with patience ; but, after observing ' she was a
weak sinful woman, and not deserving such fine encomiums,'
she directed it to be thrown into the Nerbudda, and took no
further notice of the author. The facts that have been stated
of Ahalya Baee rest on grounds that admit of no scepticism.
It is, however, an extraordinary picture : — a female without
vanity ; a bigot without intolerance ; a mind, imbued with the
deepest superstition, yet receiving no impressions except what
promoted the happiness of those under its influence ; a being
exercising, in the most active and able manner, despotic power,
not merely with sincere humility, but under the severest moral
restraint that a strict conscience could impose on human action.
And all this, combined with the greatest indulgence for the
weakness and faults of others. Such, at least, is the account
which the natives of Mulwa give of Ahalya Baee : with them her
name is sainted, and she is styled an Avatar, or incarnation of the
Divinity. In the most sober view that can be taken of her
character, she certainly appears, within her limited sphere, to
have been one of the purest and most exemplary rulers that
ever existed ; and she affords a striking example of the practical
benefit a mind may receive from performing worldly duties
under a deep sense of responsibility to its Creator."
Spottiswoodes and Shaw,
New - street- Square .
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