James Tod - Reception


Criticism of the Annals came soon after publication. The anonymous author of the introduction to his posthumously published Travels states that

The only portions of this great work which have experienced anything like censure are those of a speculative character, namely, the curious Dissertation on the Feudal System of the Rajpoots, and the passages wherein the Author shows too visible a leaning towards hypotheses identifying persons, as well as customs, manners, and superstitions, in the East and the West, often on the slender basis of etymological affinities.

Further criticism followed. Tod was an officer of the British imperial system, at that time the world's dominant power. Working in India, he attracted the attention of local rulers who were keen to tell their own tales of defiance against the Mughal empire. He heard what they told him but knew little of what they omitted. He was a soldier writing about a caste renowned for its martial abilities, and he was aided in his writings by the very people whom he was documenting. He had been interested in Rajput history prior to coming into contact with them in an official capacity, as administrator of the region in which they lived. These factors, says Freitag, contribute to why the Annals were "manifestly biased". Freitag argues that critics of Tod's literary output can be split into two groups: those who concentrate on his errors of fact and those who concentrate on his failures of interpretation.

Tod relied heavily on existing Indian texts for his historical information and most of these are today considered unreliable. Crooke's introduction to Tod's 1920 edition of the Annals recorded that the old Indian texts recorded "the facts, not as they really occurred, but as the writer and his contemporaries supposed that they occurred." Crooke also says that Tod's "knowledge of ethnology was imperfect, and he was unable to reject the local chronicles of the Rajputs." More recently, Robin Donkin, a historian and geographer, has argued that, with one exception, "there are no native literary works with a developed sense of chronology, or indeed much sense of place, before the thirteenth century", and that researchers must rely on the accounts of travellers from outside the country.

Tod's work relating to the genealogy of the Chathis Rajkula was criticised as early as 1872, when an anonymous reviewer in the Calcutta Review said that

It seems a pity that Tod's classification of 36 royal races should be accepted as anything but a purely ornamental arrangement, founded as it was on lists differing considerably both in the numbers and names of the tribes included in it, and containing at least two tribes, the Jats and Gujars, with whom the Rajputs do not even generally intermarry.

Other examples of dubious interpretations made by Tod include his assertions regarding the ancestry of the Mohil Rajput clan when, even today, there is insufficient evidence to prove his point. He also mistook Rana Kumbha, a ruler of Mewar in the fifteenth century, as being the husband of the princess-saint Mira Bai and misrepresented the story of the queen Padmini. The founder of the Archaeological Survey of India, Alexander Cunningham, writing in 1885, noted that Tod had made "a whole bundle of mistakes" in relation to the dating of the Battle of Khanwa, and Crooke notes in his introduction to the 1920 edition that Tod's "excursions into philology are the diversions of a clever man, not of a trained scholar, but interested in the subject as an amateur." Michael Meister, an architectural historian and professor of South Asia Studies, has commented that Tod had a "general reputation for inaccuracy ... among Indologists by late in the nineteenth century", although the opinion of those Indologists sometimes prevented them from appreciating some of the useful aspects in his work. That reputation persists, with one modern writer, V. S. Srivastava of Rajasthan's Department of Archaeology and Museums, commenting that his works "are erroneous and misleading at places and they are to be used with caution as a part of sober history". In its time, Tod's work was influential even among officials of the government, although it was never formally recognised as authoritative. Andrea Major, who is a cultural and colonial historian, has commented on a specific example, that of the tradition of sati (ritual immolation of a widow):

The overly romanticised image of Rajasthan, and of the Rajput sati, that Tod presented came to be extremely influential in shaping British understanding of the rite's Rajput context. Though Tod does make a point of denouncing sati as a cruel and barbarous custom, his words are belied by his treatment of the subject in the rest of the Annals. ... Tod's image of the Rajput sati as the heroic equivalent of the Rajput warrior was one that caught the public imagination and which exhibited surprising longevity.

The romantic nationalism that Tod espoused was used by Indian nationalist writers, especially those from the 1850s, as they sought to resist British control of the country. Works such as Jyotirindranath Tagore's Sarojini ba Chittor Akrama and Girishchandra Ghosh's Ananda Raho retold Tod's vision of the Rajputs in a manner to further their cause. In modern-day India, he is still revered by those whose ancestors he documented in good light. In 1997, the Maharana Mewar Charitable Foundation instituted an award named after Tod and intended it to be given to modern non-Indian writers who exemplified Tod's understanding of the area and its people. In other recognition of his work in Mewar Province, a village has been named Todgarh, and it has been claimed that Tod was in fact a Rajput as an outcome of the process of karma and rebirth. Freitag describes the opinion of the Rajput people

Tod, here, is not about history as such, but is a repository for "truth" and "splendor" ... The danger, therefore, is that the old received wisdom – evident and expressed in the work of people like Tod – will not be challenged at all, but will become much more deeply ingrained.

Furthermore, Freitag points out that "the information age has also anointed Tod as the spokesman for Rajasthan, and the glories of India in general, as attested by the prominent quotations from him that appear in tourism related websites."

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