Presentation of the Shikshapatri to Sir John Malcolm
By Raymond Williams
From 'New Dimensions in Vedanta Philosophy Part I'
Bochasanwasi Shri Aksharpurushottam Sanstha 1981
Sahajanand Swami gave a copy of the Shikshapatri to Sir John Malcolm at the conclusion of their meeting at the residence of the Acting Political Agent in Rajkot on February 26, 1830. It was a most appropriate gift because the text gives the basic code of religion and the ethical teachings which provide the point of contact between the moral reform of Sahajanand Swami in Gujarat and the desire for social order and harmony on the part of Malcolm, who, as Governor of the Bombay Presidency, had political responsibility for Gujarat, including Kathiawar and Kutch. I have recently identified a manuscript of the Shikshapatri now in the Bodleian Library of Oxford University as the copy given to Sir John Malcolm in 1830. The purpose of this paper is to elaborate the context of the meeting between these two leaders and to identify and describe the manuscript in the Bodleian Library.
The meeting took place in an atmosphere of mutual respect and regard. The British administrators in the area regularly gave positive reports to their superiors and friends concerning the good influence for public order that Sahajanand's preaching was having in the territory known for disorder and lawlessness. The Collector of Baroda, Mr. Williamson, reported to Bishop Reginald Heber that "some good has been done among many of these wild people by the preaching and popularity of the Hindu reformer, Swamee Narain."
When Bishop Heber met with Sahajanand Swami on March 26, 1825, the final form of the Shikshapatri was not available, but the precepts had been preached already and had significant impact. Mr David Anderson Blane, who was Acting Political Agent at Rajkot from 1828-1830 was the person who informed Governor Malcolm about the work of Sahajanand Swami. Mr Blane must have been well acquainted with Sahajanand because his letter inviting Sahajanand to meet the governor was addressed to him as "most respectable and wise", and indicates that it was "from his friend", Mr Blane.
At that invitation Sahajanand came to Rajkot even though he was ill and close to the end of his career.
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British leaders respected Sahajanand Swami as a religious and social reformer whose teachings would contribute to order and harmony in the province. There are many injunctions in the Shikshapatri which would lead the followers of Sahajanand Swami to be exemplary citizens. The area known to be troubled by acts of thievery and robbery committed both by organized bands and by individuals. Indeed, during his trip in Kathiawar thefts were committed in Malcolm's camp, and he reported that "few travelers escape without some loss."
Sahajanand taught his disciples in the Shikshapatri, "No one should steal, even for benevolent purposes, nor should anyone take things like fruit, flowers, and the like without the consent of the owners."(17)
His respect for personal property was such that he commanded, "No one should enter or pass through private property, nor stay in a place without the owner's permission." (33) His teachings about non-violence were effective in eradicating several practices which were disrupting society. Though there is no explicit reference in the Shikshapatri to the self-immolation of widows or the drowning of infant girls, it is clear that these were repugnant to Sahajanand Swami and were covered by the general prohibition of killing: "No one shall ever commit homicide for any object." (13) Widows are to survive their husbands so that they can serve God with the same fidelity with which they served their husbands. (163) Other injunctions found in the text recommend a carefulness in business dealings (143), a justice in dealings with employees (152), and a prudence in financial affairs (145) that would provide a good foundation for social progress.
Sahajanand Swami found a warm welcome in those areas under British control. Though he was persecuted and even expelled by some of the petty chiefs of native territories, including the ruler in Ahmedabad, the British welcomed him when they gained control and even donated land for the construction of the temple in Ahmedabad. During their meeting Governor Malcolm asked if he or his disciples had been harmed under British rule, and Sahajanand replied, "On the contrary, every protection was given by all the officers in authority."
Though there was no alliance or cause and effect relations between the new religious reform movement and the new political power in Gujarat, there was coincidence in time and many areas of mutual concern. There was an old saying, "The tilak (mark of the followers of Sahajanand) and the topi (a hat worn by the British) came to Gujarat together, and they will disappear together." The British made their mark and left, but the movement founded by Sahajanand has continued to grow and prosper.
Governor Malcolm came to Rajkot toward the end of his long and distinguished career in India. He was one of seventeen children of a poor family who was commissioned at the age of thirteen by the directors of the East India company. He attained the rank of Major-General in the military, and his diplomatic skills were recognized by his appointment as Governor of Bombay from November 1, 1827 to December 1, 1830. His biographer wrote of his career, "He left the country of his adoption having attained if not its highest place, the highest ever attained by one who set out from the same starting point."
Both his writings and his policies indicated that he had a great respect and sympathy for Indians nurtured by his long association in India. Even as he endeavored to eradicate the evils of robbery, murder, sati and infanticide which Sahajanand deplored, he wrote, "The chief obstruction we shall meet in the pursuit of the improvement and reform of the natives of India will be caused by our own passions and prejudices.. This theme should be approached with humility, not pride, by all who venture to it.. We should be humbled to think in how many points, in how many duties of life, great classes of this sober, honest, kind, and inoffensive people excell us."
In recognition of his statesmanship his statue by Chantrey was placed in Statesmen's Aisle of Westminster Abbey. The inscription reads in part: Disinterested, liberal and hospitable, warm in his affections and frank in his manners, the admirer and patron of merit, no less zealous, during the whole of his arduous and eventful career, for the welfare of the natives of the East than for the service of his own country"
Two principles which guided him in his efforts at reform were consonant with his great desire to meet with Sahajanand Swami. The first was his desire to bring about social reform through persuasion, using the influence of responsible and respected Indian leaders, rather than by the use of force to enforce the acts of the legislature. He indicated that he would rather court his people than compel them by force to abandon their objectionable habits. He wrote, "To wean them from those habits by a conciliatory but firm course of proceeding may have to be a process both difficult and slow, but a statesman will hesitate to effect, by forcible means, objects which are safely and permanently secured by the slower process of moral persuasion and political management."
Thus, even though he said that the abolition of sati through gradual means and with the aid of influential Indians had occupied his attention from the day of his arrival at Bombay, he did not immediately apply to Bombay the Sati Act of 1829 from Bengal. He circulated the Act, but indicated that he did not wish to introduce it as legislation; rather, the officials under his authority "should scrupulously act upon the instructions already sent which it is hoped may have the desirable operation of rendering the most respectable natives instruments in effecting the abolition of suttees."
After his meeting with Sahajanand Swami, when he arrived in Kutch, he gathered the leaders of the Jarijah Rajputs and tried to persuade them to give up the practice of killing infant daughters.
Governor Malcolm believed that true reform would come by persuasion and through the leadership of enlightened Indians, and that such reform would be effective and lasting where the force of arms failed. Clearly he believed that Sahajanand Swami was such a leader who could bring about these reforms.
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A second principle, one which got him into some difficulty with more evangelical members of the company, was his reluctance to interfere with the religious practices of the Hindus. He believed that official government policy should not disturb or create offence to Hindu sensibilities. Thus, even when he came to feel that legal action must be taken against "this horrid rite" of sati, he wrote, "This measure must be quoted to our subjects as an exception to that rigid rule we had prescribed to ourselves, and meant scrupulously to maintain, as a general rule, of not interfering on any point connected with their religious usages."
It is certain that Malcolm was very pleased to meet a religious reformer who taught that sati and other such practices were not a part of orthodox Hinduism.
When Governor Malcolm left Bombay late in 1829 on the steamer "Enterprise" for Gujarat, he was anxious to investigate for himself the troubled politics of Baroda, Kathiawar, and Kutch. His investigation continued the work of a Secret Committee which had to recommend whether the British should withdraw from Kutch and parts of Kathiawar because of the continued disturbances and lawlessness in the area or should they increase their influence there. Malcolm recommended that the British remain because it was necessary to protect the area from invasion by pirates and plunderers. He referred to the object of humanity in removing infanticide as well as the object of political policy to create a secure and peaceful territory in the north.
But he recognized, better than most of his contemporaries, that the battle for social and moral reform would be fought and won by Indian leaders among whom Sahajanand Swami was one of the most influential in Gujarat. The gift of a copy of the Shikshapatri was an appropriate token of the meeting between these two leaders, who, though quite different in background and station, had much in common in the desire for social and moral reform.
The manuscript of Shikshapatri is now of more than token value because it is one of the oldest copies of the text preserved and one of the very few presented by Sahajanand Swami himself. The manuscript is now preserved in the Indian Institute Library of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. It is a small, hand-sized manuscript in book form of 5½ by 3½ inches. There are one hundred and sixty-six pages with six lines of writing on each page. There are five pages without text. The material is paper, and it is protected by a cloth binding that is folded over and tied shut. On the fly-leaf the following unsigned inscription is written in English:
Presented by Swami Narain a reforming saint in Guzerat. It is a detail of the duties of the duties of his disciples upon different subjects but not so full as the Manu Dharma Shastra to which he refers for what he may have omitted. He forbids all cruel punishments whatever. The slokas are in Sanskrit but the commentary is written in Guzerati.
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The form of the Shikshapatri is the two-hundred and twelve verses as found in the final form completed by Sahajanand Swami in 1826. The commentary in Gujarati was written by Nityanand Muni. This copy was made by a scribe named Nilakanthanand Muni in 1830. Interesting material in addition to the Shikshapatri is found in the manuscript. A hymn to Narayana in eight verses by Dinanath comes first, followed by a hymn to Radha-Krishna by Shatanand, also in eight verses. Following the Shikshapatri is a Gujarati hymn by Muktanand Muni. Since this copy was presented to Governor Malcolm in February of 1830, it was made only three or four years after composition, and is therefore important for the study of the authentic text. Acharya Tejendraprasadji of Ahmedabad has indicated in a letter that he is not aware of any copy from the hand of Sahajanand older than this text.
In addition to the inscription, the connection of this manuscript with the meeting between Governor Malcolm and Sahajanand is made through the donor of the manuscript, Mr. Thomas Law Blane. A member of the Madras Civil Service in the 1820's and 1830's, he was the younger brother of David Anderson Blane who was Acting Political Agent in Kathiawar from 1828 to 1830.
D.A. Blane arranged and was present at the meeting in Rajkot, and it seems likely that he preserved the manuscript. After his death in 1879 it was donated to the library at Oxford by his brother. Another indication of its origin, at least in time and location, is the similarity it has to another manuscript given by Sahajanand Swami to Jiva Kachar at Sarnagpur. This manuscript, which includes some chapters of the Vachanamritam, was preserved by the family of Jiva Kachar, and, since 1968, has been in the library of Mr. C.T. Patel in Mombasa, Kenya. Part of the manuscript was written by Gopalanand Swami. This manuscript appears, without the benefit of side by side comparison, to be in the same format, using the same black and red ink markings, and to have the same type of cloth covering. It represents the kind of manuscript used by Sahajanand and other members of the fellowship at that time.
The Oxford manuscript is one of two manuscripts of the Shikshapatri in the Indian Institute Library founded in 1880 by Professor Monier-Williams, Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University. He published the first scholarly edition of the text of the Shikshapatri with an English translation. Though Professor Keith seems to indicate that Monier-Williams used the manuscript presented by Sahajanand as the basis for his translation,
the evidence in Monier-Williams' writing suggests that he was not aware of the existence of this manuscript when he published his edition.
When he visited the Vadtal temple in 1875, he received from the Acharya a text that had been lithographed in 1872. He found this copy to be full of errors, and the location of this text is not known to me. In 1876 he received from the Acharya a second text which he found to be far more accurate and a splendid specimen of Sanskrit claigraphy.
This text, elaborated by a commentary by Shatananda Muni, was used as the basis for his edition and translation. It is a beautiful; large manuscript now preserved in the Bodleian Library.
Professor Monier-Williams, along with Sir John Malcolm and Bishop Reginald Heber, expressed appreciation for the highly moral character of the precepts of the Shikshapatri as taught by Sahajanand Swami. It is appropriate that the copy of the text presented to Governor Malcolm found its way into the research library founded by Monier-Williams. There it is carefully preserved and permanently available so that students and scholars can continue the study of the text begun in the West by Monier-Williams.
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