In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on Hindustan, I have expanded the abbreviations for easier reading and added paragraphing and links. This mid-Victorian reference work has substantial sections on both India and Hindustan, and it is not always clear how Victorians distinguished between the two. The title-page bears the date 1856, but internal evidence in various entrees makes clear that the text dates from 1851 or 1852. This discussion of British India has particular importance because it immediately precedes the 1857 Mutiny.— George P. Landow]
In a few arts and manufactures such as weaving, dyeing, carving, stone-cutting, architec ture and sculpture of certain kinds, and the fabrication of some metallic articles the Hindoos have undoubtedly excelled.
Two women spinning white threads. 1780-1858. Watercolor gouache on mica, 97 x 149 mm. New York Public Library Digital Collections NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b13976376. Click on image to enlarge it.
The cotton, muslin, and silk fabrics, the carpets and the shawls, of India, have deserved celebrity; amongst these goods, the muslins of Dacca, formerly made in much larger quantities than at present, in and around that city, claim the foremost notice. These muslins are known by various names; chiefly denoting the fineness, beauty, or transparency of their texture. The finest of all is the mulmus khus (literally, mus lin made for the special use of a prince, or great personage). It is woven in half-pieces, measuring 10 yds. in length and 1 yd. in breadth, having 1900 threads in the warp, and weigh ing only about 3J oz. avoirdupois. Some of the other mus lins are also beautiful productions of the loom; as aJirmcan, compared by the natives, from its clear pellucid texture, to running water; and nhnb-num, so named from its resem blance, when it is wetted and spread upon the bleaching-field, to the evening dew on the grass.
Embroidery (zur-dozec) is an art in which the Mohammedans of Dacca display extra ordinary skill. They embroider Cashmere shawls and scarfs, muslins, and net fabrics, with silk, gold, and silver thread, in a manner probably unrivalled in any other part of the world. In Scinde and the Punjab, also, this branch of industry is conducted with eminent skill. The muslin manufacture, like the production of Indian cotton goods of all other kinds, has materially declined within the present century, in consequence of the competition of British goods; nor would there appear any prospect of the revival of Indian manufacturing prospe rity, at least as to common woven fabrics, in the face of such powerful rivalry.
Masulipatam, and various other places on the east side of the peninsula, have been famed for chintz, and other coloured cotton goods; which are still made there, as well as at Surat, near the Gulf of Cambay.
The silks of India are inferior to those of China; but for the production of shawls, the country is unrivalled, especially the province of Cashmere, where these goods are woven from the fine hair of the Tibet goat.
Trichinopoly is noted for the manufacture of gold chains of exquisite workmanship; and at several places, on the west side of the peninsula, carnelians, blood stone, and other products of the same character, which are abundantly found in that region, are, as already stated, cut and polished in superior style. In filigree work, and stone, wood, and ivory carving, pottery, and engraving on gems, the Hindoos are highly respectable artizans; and the beauty, brilliancy, and durability of their dyes, were as celebrated among the Greeks and Romans as they are at the present day madder, indigo, lac, turmeric, sappan, &c., dyeing mate rials of the first importance, being native products. Nume rous manufactures, calculated to give a high idea of Indian ingenuity and taste, appeared at the Great Exhibition in Lon don, in 1851. Amongst these were various articles in agate from Bombay, mirrors from Lahore, marble chairs from Aj- meer, kincobs from Benares, embroidered silk shawls and scarfs, carpets from Bangalore, and a variety of articles in iron, inlaid with silver.
All the excellence hitherto evinced by the Hindoos, in the prosecution of arts and sciences, appears, however, to have been wholly manipulative. The people, with a few rare exceptions amongst which Rainmohun-ltoy has been a striking example have evinced no grasp of intellect, enabling them to become versed, beyond a very limited extent, in the higher branches of learning. In arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and astronomy, they have made some rudimentary progress; and their genius is somewhat adapted to metaphysical specula tions, and the intricacies of grammar and jurisprudence; but their geography, medicine, and other practical sciences, are a chaos, and their agriculture is of the rudest kind.
In literature the Hindoos are, and always have been, far behind several neighbouring nations. Except some of their theological writings, the only works of any celebrity amongst them are the Muhabdrat and the Jlamayaiia; the one record ing the wars of the sons of Baharat, and the other the adven tures of Kama. They are both poems, there being hardly any prose compositions in Hindoo literature, and both extremely bad; being destitute of every quality they ought to possess, and having nearly all they ought not. The state of cduca tion is equally backward, there being scarcely one man in a hundred who can read a common letter; neither can they de rive any benefit from such scientific, or other useful works, as they have, in consequence of them being all written in Sanscrit, with which the mass are entirely unacquainted. The females are, in general, utterly ignorant of reading and writing; a Brahminical prejudice existing against female education.
India, and especially the Deccan, abounds with stupendous and highly-elaborate architecture; not, indeed, possessing the elegant proportions of the edifices of ancient Greece, but rather exhibiting the ponderous sublimity which characterize those still extant in Egypt, with the addition of a great deal of ornamental and minute sculpture, representations of the deities of the Hindoo pantheon, and their reputed acts, &c.; not generally conceived or executed in good taste, or with any regard to delicacy of sentiment. Amongst the most remark able monuments of the kind are the excavated temples of Elora, Elephanta, Carlee, and Baug, on the AV. side of the peninsula; the pyramids of Pooree (Juggernaut) in the east; and the temples of Tanjore, Trichinopoly, &c., in the south Most of these are Brahminical, others of Buddhist, and some of Jain origin; all have been constructed at epochs long passed, and some may perhaps boast of a high antiquity. In the region of Hindoostan proper, which was the great seat of Mahometan ascendency, many beautiful structures, con structed by the western invaders of Hindoostan, exist; the most elegant of which is the Taj-Mehal, at Agra a splendid mausoleum, constructed by the Emperor Shah-Jehan. In the Mahometan edifices marble is plentifully employed a ma terial never used in Hindoo structures; all of which have been either excavated in sandstone, or hewn out of granite. Throughout the centre and south of India, hill-forts, on heights difficult of access, are numerous, and have proved formidable strongholds of native chiefs. But, with exception of the lat ter, and of the embankments, tanks, and other constructions for facilitating irrigation in which endeavour the Hindoos have displayed much care and ingenuity nearly all the great architectural efforts of the Hindoos have been spent on struc tures connected with their religion. From the palace of the sovereign to the hut of the peasant, their habitations are, for the most part, meanly built; in some hilly parts the walls are constructed of stone, but elsewhere only of mud or sun-dried bricks, and roofed with bamboo or palmyra leaves; except in the principal cities and towns, where more attention is paid to solidity in domestic architecture.
Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 7 November 2018.
Last modified 10 December 2018