FROM ONE PERSPECTIVE, history is also an agglomeration of the surreal and the bizarre. The story of how Warren Hastings — one of the most prolific and heartless looters of India — was humbled to seek a certificate of good conduct by a group of Sanskrit Pandits at Kashi easily counts as one example of this historical phenomenon. A story that has been forgotten and buried but needs wide retelling especially today, when “Great” Britain is racing towards all-encompassing extinction.
The prolonged trial of the impeachment of Warren Hastings culminated in his acquittal on April 23, 1795. Acquittal or not, the trial itself had tarnished his reputation beyond repair not just in England but throughout the world. The full corpus of its proceedings are a lasting monument to his deserved infamy.
Embedded in these proceedings is a sliver of truth which exposes another slant of Hastings’ utter lack of scruple or character: of shamelessly seeking endorsement from the very people he had oppressed and plundered. Hastings typically, was not courageous enough to seek their endorsement directly. He unleashed one of his many criminal minions to execute the deed: Charles Wilkins, who had studied Sanskrit in Varanasi under the tutelage of Pandit Kalinatha. The selfsame Wilkins has the distinction of bringing out the first English translation of the Bhagavad-Gita.
Even as the impeachment proceedings raged on, Warren Hastings clearly realised that he was on the losing side, and had to marshal all the support that he could get from all quarters. From the King of England, from its corrupt aristocracy and his own vast network of criminals and pirates of the East Indian Company fattened on the pillage of India, which Hastings had distributed to them. The other category of people he sought support from were the aforementioned, unfortunate victims of his loot. Remarking on this phenomenon, the prolific scholar P. K. Gode writes: “In the history of mankind occasions, when a Viceroy needs a testimonial from his humble subjects, are few and far between. Rarer still are the occasions when such testimonials find place in official archives or private publications.” (Emphasis added)
These official archives are formally titled, Debates of the House of Lords on the Evidence delivered in the trial of Warren Hastings, Esquire, published in 1797. The specific section in which Hastings begs for support is titled Proceedings of the East India Company in Consequence of an Acquittal: and Testimonials of the British and Native Inhabitants of India, Relative to his Character and Conduct while he was Governor General of Fort William, in Bengal.
When news of Hastings’ acquittal became public, a flood of congratulatory letters reached him from all quarters. All this correspondence is preserved in the aforementioned documents.
Of these, three letters are relevant to our context. One letter is in Persian and two are in Sanskrit. Interestingly, these letters were sent to Hastings via a covering letter dated 19 December, 1796 by the Secretary to the Government of Bengal. The selfsame Charles Wilkins, described as an “ingenious friend of Mr. Hastings,” translated the Sanskrit letters to English. We can briefly look at the contents of the two Sanskrit letters.
The first letter endorsing Hastings’ good conduct ends as follows: “This writing is dated the 7th of the light fortnight of the moon of Phalgoona in the year 1852 of the Samvat.” It is stamped with the seals and signatures of a whopping forty-one Sanskrit Pandits of Benares. Here are the names:
(1) Kasinatha, Professor of General Knowledge. His seal reads thus: “ornament of Tarka (logic) and among the Panditas, he is called the chief of Vignana.”
(2) Ramachandra Sarma surnamed Tara.
(3) Vidyananda Sarma surnamed Bhatta
(4) Gangarama Sarma
(5) Seena Prasada Sarma.
(6) Anoopanarayana Deva Sarma
(7) Salagrama Tripathi
(8) Rishiraja Mishra
(9) Dikshita Harirama Sarma
(10) Sukhadeva, Astronomer
(11) Manu Joshi
(12) Dikshita Durlabha
(13) Ramaprasada Sarma.
(14) Lakshmipati, Astronomer
(15) Kashinatha Tripathi
(16) Krishnananda Sarma
(17) Sudhakara Sarma surnamed Tara
(18) Dhanapati Sarma
(19) Manoratha Sarma
(20) Kevalarama Sarma
(21) Sudhakara Sarma, Surnamed Tara
(22) Kevalarama Mishra
(23) Dikshita Jataa Sankara, Professor of the Rg Veda
(24) Shukla Markandeshwara, Professor of the Sama Veda
(25) Krishna Dikshita Deva Sarma
(26) Harideva Sarma
(27) Durgacharana Sarma
(28) Hiramani, surnamed Sesha
(29) Jayarama Sarma, surnamed Bhatvada
(30) Gowriprasada Sarma
(31-34) Unnamed Pandits
35) Jayarama Bhatta, Professor of Yajur Veda
(36) Mouniraja, Professor of Atharva Veda
(37) Bhyravachandra Sarma
(38) Ramananda Sarma
(39) Rameswara Bhatta Gahwara
(40) Govinda Bhatta
(41) Mani Sarma
(42) Babanoo Sarma
(43) Cheta Sarma
The second letter is more revealing and reads as follows: “We, a number of your industrious Servants, Brahmanas, and other Hindus, Yavanas (Musalmans) and other foreigners, whose constant residence is here on the delightful, beautiful, and for ever full-flowing stream of the sacred Ganga; where, by conquering sundry evils, we have become pure, and where we enjoy at ease abundant happiness flowing from the profits derived from our several exertions, humbly address you, the illustrious Nawab Amaduddowla, Governor Hastings Bahadur Jaladat Jang.”
This letter was originally intended for a signature campaign, circulated among all prominent citizens of Benares including Hindus, Muslims and “other foreigners” in the city. However, the Muslims refused to sign this letter drafted in a Kaffir language and put out their own version lauding Hastings in Persian (the third letter, mentioned above). It was eventually signed only by Hindus. Some of the Hindu signatories came up with creative passages hailing Hastings. Here is one sample written in Sanskrit prose by Srinivasa Pathak.
“May the good wishes, abundantly offered up by Srinivasa Pathak, the son of the astrologer Paramananda, bless Hastings… By the pleasure of Visvanatha, may treasures of good wishes be the prize of victory to Hastings, Sovereign of the land of truth!”
The total number of signatories is hundred and sixty-seven, and the names of only sixty-seven are given below, by way of illustration.
(1) Hari Bhadra Pandita
(2) Vishvambhara Seva Bhadra
(3) Ramabhadra Pandita
(4) Ramachandra, surnamed Kotakara
(5) Dadambhatta Sarma
(6) Sesha Harirama Panta
(7) Nilakanta Sarma, alias Rajyam Bhatta
(8) Harirama Sarma
(9) Punyasthamba Mukunda
(10) Sevarama, alias Dasa Pootra
(11) Vine Agrarama Dasa Pootra
(12) Raja Rama Sarma
(13) Vasudeva Gurjara
(14) Mukunda Deva
(15) Lakshmana Pandita Dasa Pootra
(16) Lakshmana Sarma, Surnamed Bandhavakara
(17) Jagannatha Sarma
(18) Vishvarupa Natha Bhatta
(19) Kripa Krishna Sarma Surnamed Yaajnika
(20) Bacham Bhatta Sarma, Surnamed Mauni
(21) Astrologer Jaya Rama
(22) Nanha Goorjara
(23) Vaksha Yadava
(24) Toondha Raja Dikshita
(25) Bhairava Dikshita, Surnamed Phalanetra
(26) Narayana Bhatta, Surnamed Pouranika
(28) Rama Krishna
(29) Bhairava Bhatta
(30) Balakrishna Dikshita
(31) Sakharam Bhattha
(32) Sivarama Bhatta
(33) Gangarama Bhatta
(35) Ramakrishna Dikshita, Surnamed Tilaka
(37) Sadasiva Sarma, Surnamed Ambhonakara
(38) Ramachandra Pant Sarma
(39) Raja Rama
(40) Valam Bhatta, of the Bharadwaja gotra
(41) Visvaroopa, Surnamed Dhundi
(42) Krishna Bhatta
(43) Anantarama Surnamed Pattavardhana
(45) Bhavanisankara Sarma Surnamed Thakkura
(46) Tripathi Janakinatha Sarma
(47) Siva Lal
(48) Ramakrishna, Surnamed Ghoola
(49) Lokanatha Deva
(50) Jagannatha Bhatta Marathi
(51) Krishna Bhatta Lalla
(52) Okabalaha Sarma
(53) Sakharama, Surnamed Tara
(54) Mani Rama
(55) Chintamani Dikshita, Surnamed Karnataka
(56) Doodhiraja Bhatta, Surnamed Pharaka
(57) Jagannatha, Surnamed Ghoola
(58) Bapu Dikshita, Surnamed Drona
(59) Ramachandra Deva
(60) Bhaskara Bhatta
(61) Srinivasa Pathaka, the son of the astrologer Paramananda
(62) Mahadeva Deva
(63) Sivabhadra Pathaka
(64) Sivarama Ghose
(65) Adityarama Pataka
(66) Vyasa Vinayaka
(67) Radha Charana of the court of justice established in the city of Varanasi.
To cite Sri P.K. Gode again: “these names are very important to the students of history in general, and of the history of the city of Benares in particular.” Among other things, both letters clearly reveal a common theme: the unbroken continuity of Kashi as the numero uno hub where Pandits and Sadhus and sages from all parts of Bharatavarsha met and merged. The surnames and titles of the Pandits mentioned in both lists unambiguously reveal the identity of their native provinces. Unlike in the present era of hardened linguistic and regional identities, the Pandits of that era lived as one, bound by Sanatana Dharma, Samskruta and Samskara, whose most radiant centre was Kashi.
But there is a more significant aspect to these letters written by devout Pandits to a global criminal who had uprooted their culture and looted their sacred country. It births two vital questions: why would they even write such a letter? Was their effusive praise for Warren Hastings rooted in genuine admiration for the plunderer? Once again, P. K. Gode answers it with aplomb: “how far the addresses presented to Warren Hastings are a genuine expression of the feelings of their signatories I am unable to say because in such types of addresses, the hand of the officialdom is often at work, suppressing the likes and dislikes of the people, whose voice they are supposed to represent.”
In this light, there is every reason to conclude that these letters were written under duress. Warren Hastings escaped unpunished, and his whole impeachment trial only reaffirms an ancient truth that the bigger the criminal, the greater the chances of his acquittal.
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