India in1857




Background Notes for

Skirmish Wargames and Role Play Games

set in the Indian Mutiny

1857 - 1858


(Part 1)



Alan Hamilton



 The Bengal Presidency

 The area we are concerned with is the Gangetic Plain in North India.  The plain runs from the Bay of Bengal in the east almost to the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan in the west, the Himalayas in the north and the Deccan Plateau in the south.  It is a huge river basin drained by some very large and wide rivers.  The sacred River Ganges flows through the region.  Near the rivers the land is flat and arable.  Hilly country surrounds the basin and to these cooler areas the ladies and children of the Britons were sent to escape the terrible heat of summer.  For many an officer the huge accrued cost of this annual pilgrimage led to ruin.  Many could not repay their debts from a salary that could not sustain the normal social activity in the Regiment and in the hills.  For other officers ruin came for those who, once the families were gone, spent a considerable amount of time losing at the gaming tables. 


 For eight months of the year the heat was unbearable around midday.  A period of fearsome heat, choking dust, raging thirst, myriads of flies, shimmering mirages and blinding sunshine.  Rivers and streams dried up, vegetation withered and became tinder dry, winds whipped up dust devils, travel became a trial of endurance.

 The native architecture cheated the heat by having large high rooms with the internal walls pierced by archways.  Doors were seldom found inside, the spaces being filled by lattice screens or cloth hangings.  The air was often kept on the move by the gentle beat of the punkah wallah’s fan.

 Often quoted examples of the effects of the heat were that the pianos went out of tune, the ink dried as soon as it touched the paper and the peaks of the shakos melted to a sticky mess.  The bhisti, water bearer, was, therefore, an important feature of markets, parade grounds and on the march.

The long hot summer was followed by four months of rain following the arrival of the Monsoon.  The rain lashed down in torrents, turning the dusty earth to liquid mud, dissolving mud walls, raising river levels to flood proportions, vegetation became lush and green, everything was wet and travel in many places became impossible at times.

The verandahs of the buildings that provided shade from the sun in summer now provided cover from the rainstorms.  Wide drains, often resembling canals complete with lock gates, took away the rainwater but, on occasion, even these flooded.  Water was stored in tanks, artificial ponds, in the wet season and used throughout the summer months.  The beasts of burden, bullocks and elephants, needed mud baths to prevent their skin drying and cracking.

Many observers of the period said that for eight months you were ankle deep in dust and for four knee deep in mud.

INDIA in 1857


Life in India had become very languid for the ex-patriate Europeans.  Those who had work to do seldom found it occupied more than a couple of hours per day.  The rest of the day was spent on the social round, gambling, hunting or other pastimes.  This contrasted sharply with the almost exclusively male military and commercial pioneering society of the eighteenth century.  Many blamed this fairly recent development on the increasing numbers of ladies accompanying or joining the men folk, both army and civil, in India for some of their tours of duty.  The tradition had been for the ladies and families to stay at home in England and the Officers would return home for extended leave periods every few years.  It was not uncommon to find older officers with Indian wives or “responsibilities”.

India was a multicultural society even in 1857.  The ruling “European” class of the Honourable East India Company were mainly of British origin.  However, there were also significant numbers of French, Portuguese, Dutch, Germans, Swiss, Americans and others.  In addition there were significant numbers of people from Persia, Afghanistan, Arabia, China and South East Asia amongst others.  Generally this was the result of trading or commercial interest but there were mercenaries, brigands, refugees and adventurers within their number.

Many affluent Europeans, as they liked to be called, preferred to communicate with each other by sending a chaprassi (messenger) with a chit (note).  This saved the effort of dressing appropriately and travelling through the streets.  Few now knew Hindustani a hybrid language of Hindi and Urdu that was used for dealings with servants well enough to send a verbal message.  A socially inclined lady might send as many as 25 chits in a day.  In previous times the Europeans had prided themselves in their mastery of the native tongues.  Indeed, on the frontiers and in the provinces this was still very much the case.  It was often claimed, perhaps rightly, that the interest generated amongst the Griffins (young officers just out from Britain) by the arrival of marriageable ladies diverted them, not only from their language and dialect studies but also from regimental duties. 

Status in India was demonstrated by lifestyle.  Servants formed a living and visible symbol of wealth.  Servants were employed by the score.  Every European, no matter how humble, was expected to have servants.  Not a servant but servants.  It was not uncommon, even, for servants to have servants.  Virtually every task no matter how mundane had a specialist servant to perform it.

A doctor in a hospital doing his rounds might have a whole entourage servants: one or more to carry his instruments, one to carry his case records, one to carry his ledger, one with his writing implements, one with a hand basin, one with a towel, a water carrier and a supervisor!  He would, naturally have servants in his office and at home as well as drivers, grooms and so on.  If he had a wife and family then they, too, would have servants.

Common soldiers had servants to carry out the menial camp chores, carry equipment, pitch tents, clean and generally look after them.  It must be said, however, this was not quite so lavish a scale as their officers. 

Indian title



Female personal servant usually to a lady or child

Bhisti (Bishti)

Water carrier



Banya or Buniah

Corn Chandler





Dhobie Wallah


Ghora Wallah

Groom, carriage driver


Envoy, Agent


Runner, foot messenger




Tent pitcher


Native Official (Magistrate) of the Bazaar


Camp follower, general labourer


Hereditary elephant driver


Workman, builder, mason

Nautch girl

Dancing girl

Punkah Wallah

One who works a blade fan (the Punkah)


Follower of a Rajah

Suddeer Bazaar

Headman of the Bazaar


Horse groom, Stable servant


The majority of those connected with the Army, the Honourable East India Company (HEIC) or civil service lived on the cantonments.  These groups of bungalows were virtually suburbs of towns and all were built to a virtually identical pattern.  The bungalows faced west to cheat the morning sun’s heat.  Nearly all had raised verandahs and thatched roofs for coolness.  All had an enclosing wall which made a compound and against which the outbuildings stood.  They were described as “enormous beehives perched on milestones”. 

The interiors of the bungalows were interlinking rooms without doors, screens of turkey red cloth served instead.  Furnishings were simple - a round blackwood table, chintz covered chairs, charpoys (low frame beds) and, sometimes, a piano.  The plaster walls were often paint washed in pale pink or lime green.

The domestic servants quarters and the kitchen lay just across the compound.  Hot food was delivered to the table in insulated pots, cold on trays.  The temperature dictated the meal times but not the menu.  Breakfast was the main meal of the day at which important business was conducted.  The Europeans were early risers; those involved in commerce often did a few hours work before breakfast at 8am or so.  Breakfast typically might comprise a choice of devilled turkey thighs, Irish stew, pigeon pie, omelettes, fried fish, snipe and green peas in season.  This feast would be washed down with tea, beer or iced claret.

Lunch, called tiffin, was a light meal served about 2pm.  This was often a social meeting.  In some areas, notably in Oudh (now Uttar Pradesh), another light meal of tea and cakes was served at about 4pm to bridge the gap between tiffin and dinner which was served later here than the more usual 7.30pm. 

European goods were freely available from outlets like the “Hall of All Nations” in Calcutta.  Such commodities as fresh York hams, Cheddar cheese, fine ox-tongues, comfits, spice nuts, Moselle and Madeira wines were readily available.  The new hermetically sealed goods were regarded as status symbols and in high demand.  Lobsters in stone jars, preserved oysters, Portuguese sardines and the like were much sought after.

Propriety medicines were all the rage.  One, “Holloway’s Ointment” was a profilactic that, it was claimed, cured anything “from mosquito bites to secondary symptoms”.  Medicine was, however, still primitive.  Hornet stings, for example, were commonly cauterised with a glowing cigar.

As can be expected, prices were high.  In part this was due to the habit of equating a rupee with a shilling because of its similar size rather than its true value of nearly two shillings.  Thus English lavendar water cost 8/-, a one pound tin of Cambridge sausages 9/- an untrimmed Linsey-Woolsey dress £5.  To have your watch cleaned would set you back 16/- and a second hand buggy £25.  Certain home comforts had made their appearance in the past few years:  Lucifer safety matches (1838); ice (from 1852); bottled soda water (1853).

The Native troops lived nearby in their “Lines” to the east of the parade ground with their families.  These buildings varied in style and permanence depending upon location.  In some areas, they were the traditional barrack blocks, in others mud brick buildings.


Fast communications between towns was by the recently introduced telegraph system and railways were under construction.  The dak, or postal service, also provided fast if uncomfortable transport by gharry, a small two wheeled carriage.  Passengers were accomodated overnight in very basic dak bungalows, coaching inns, on their journeys.  Messages could be sent beyond the reach of the telegraph to almost any location by express camel.  These either carried several messages in saddlebags or a messenger in addition to the driver.   


The Talukdars, local lords, were removed in the British controlled territories. This often created unrest because the people felt they lacked the same level of protection they once had. All seemed to prefer (or at least accept) the inequalities and corruption of the Talukdars who lived in the area and who fought or bought off the dacoits to the more remote police force. 

In HEIC controlled areas a local police force of chowkidars was created. These upholders of law and order were expected to defeat the raids of the bandits and deal with local crime.  In return they were paid a starvation wage of 2 rupees per month.  It comes as little surprise that the force failed to attract highly motivated men and became a force of ruffians who could find no other employment.  It must come as no surprise that they accepted bribes from the bands of robbers operating in their areas and were as corrupt as the Talukdars without giving any level of protection.  In some areas they were quite open about this allegiance. 

Torture was commonplace and an accepted way of gathering evidence or of extracting a confession in the native Indian justice system.  The methods used were as varied and as imaginative as the torturers.  However, some of the most common and accepted ways of gaining a valid confession included lighted matches between the fingers and the Spanish windlass. 

In order to take out litigation, everyone, even a coolie had to hand over a 1/- stamp before consulting an attorney.  The British principle of allowing equal access to the courts for all caused disquiet amongst those who had been priviledged in their access to special consideration under the law until now.  The most agrieved were the sepoys of the HEIC regiments who had lost their special status when the British annexed their homeland of Oudh.

The traditional kutcheri, or court, was presided over by the Zemindar.  He would adjudicate at least twice a week on such legal matters as:

·         land disputes

·         crop settlements

·         thieving of water

·         breaching of walls

·         non-payment of rent

·         non-payment of taxes

·         and the like.

Furthermore he could decide in such civil and family matters as:

·         overdue payment for a bride

·         which son would inherit the plough on the death of the father

·         property inheritance

·         breaches of contract

·         and so on


The collection of taxes was farmed out by the HEIC to local Collectors in much the same way as before.  Allegedly, the system was less prone to corruption by its use of civil servants and army officers in its supervision.  

The ferry tax and the complicated methods of its collection meant that, in an area criss crossed by rivers, about 20 miles travelled per day was considered the best that could be achieved. 

Land tax was paid in quarterly instalments.  The quarters did not reflect the agricultural cycle in any way and so it was often due before the crop was harvested.  To add to the misery, a late payment after sunset on the appointed day could be refused by the tax collector and counted as a debt unpaid.  Even a shortage of as little as 6d (a quarter rupee) would mean that the defaulter’s property was forfeit at public auction.

Many other commodities were taxed.  For example salt was very heavily taxed as were opium, saltpetre and all fermented juices.

The cost of farming was high.  The annual rent of 1 acre was 3/- (one and a half rupees) per annum and the produce it produced at about 8/- (4 rupees).  Therefore it was not unusual that, for about two months of the year, a farm labourer could not afford to buy rice.  They and their families were forced to subsist on roots and bread made from a coarse flour made from ground up mango stones.  Their salt was grubbed from the alkali of burnt vegetable ash. 

The Native Indians

There were many races in India: Rajputs, Beluchis, Bengalis to name a few.  Many members of these races had inter-married (with or without loss of caste) over the years to blur some of the distinctions.  It is also not surprising that Eurasian children, those of mixed parentage, resulted from relationships between the Europeans and the Indians.  Intermarriages were not uncommon and European women were a rarity in India until the mid-1840s.

The Eurasians, as those of mixed parentage were called, formed a substantial portion of Indian society.  They were generally accepted without question.  Although in some levels of society and certainly in the “polite” society of the drawing room there was discrimination.  

During the Mutiny most civilians of the ruling, warrior and merchant classes (eventually) sided with the British.  Some, of course, in true diplomatic style gave tentative support to both sides, perhaps a son in the HEIC Army and another supporting the rebels, until it became clear which would gain the upper hand.  Some were more patient or more experienced than others.  

However, at the start of the rebellion there were significant numbers who sided with the mutineers - the Rani of Jhansi, the Nana Sahib, the Emperor’s sons and much of the nobility of Oudh.  Many of these, it must be said, did not agree particularly with the mutineers but had personal or political circumstances which made the support of the mutineers easier to rationalise or seem to be the best course of action.  Their motives were often the redress of real or imagined grievances or the pursuit of personal power and wealth or the opportunity to settle some score with a rival.

The Bengal area, in which most of the campaigns took place, being predominantly Hindu, was a very caste and class-conscious area.  Any loss of caste - that is, failing to abide with any of the myriad rules of caste - meant long (and expensive) religious cleansing ceremonies.  For example crossing the sea was to lose caste for a Brahmin.

The Hindus were mainly the country folk, farmers and fishermen.  As is common in most religions the vast majority did not wholly accept the caste system.  Originally the caste system was a distinction between the Aryan conquerors and the vanquished that became a rigid framework of organised function and profession.  The degree of rigidity that the caste system imposed varied from area to area.  However, the influence of the caste system on the Brahmin dominated Army of the Bengal Presidency cannot be underrated.  The Brahmins of Oudh saw the castes as a rigid framework with religious taboos against marrying or even dining between castes.  Only the Brahmins were able to interpret, teach and preach the sacred doctrines.  All of the Hindus belonged to one of the castes.  It was virtually unheard of for anyone to move from one caste to another, even by marriage.





The highest caste.  Hindu priests belong to this caste.  The majority are land owning farmers.  Many served in the HEIC infantry and artillery regiments.


The Lord or warrior caste.  The second caste.  Many served in the HEIC artillery and infantry regiments.


The third or Merchant caste. 


The fourth or Serf Caste.  These people worked the land for those of higher caste.


The casteless “Untouchables” they did not receive any benefits or protection.  They were subsistence farmers, beggars, transient workers etc.  It also includes Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and so on.

The Muslims were usually the townspeople, merchants and nobility.  These are not, however, hard and fast distinctions.  Although the Muslims did not have a caste structure they did have a system of class distinctions which was much more flexible than as the Hindu castes. 

Islam was then as it is now divided into rival sects.  The two most common were the fundamentalist Shi’ites who were more literal in their beliefs and the slightly more liberal Sunni Muslims.  The ritual of prayer was strictly observed and cleanliness was required before prayer.

Muslims manned the majority of the cavalry units.  Their martial tradition as conquerors made service in this arm more attractive.  Many of the mercenaries from Afghanistan followed Islam.

At this period the term “Mussulman” (in a variety of spellings) was commonly used as a synonym for Mohammedan, Muslim or any follower of Islam. 

The majority of the common folk did not give their allegiance to any one side.  They supported whoever was protecting them from the depredations of the badmashes (evil people), goojurs, dacoits and other bandits.  However, there were many who owed their livelihoods to the HEIC, had served in its regiments or respected the rule and these supported the British and the loyal troops.  On the other hand those that had suffered or lost possessions or status under the British reforms often threw in their lot with the rebels.

A number of the people amongst the academics, the wealthy and the aristocracy saw the mutiny as the start of an independence movement.  Others saw it as an opportunity to seek settlement or retribution for wrongs in the past.  These took up arms against the British.  Another, larger, group who had gained wealth or position from the British presence loyally supported the British rule mobilising troops and donating supplies to assist in the campaigns.  Yet others, the vast majority, dealt fairly equitably with both sides. 

Family Life

The Indians lived in extended families, linked through the male line, living under one roof.  It was usual for a young Indian to bring his wife, who had been chosen by his parents and elders, to live within his family. 

Everything was shared in the family and the patriarch doled out the shares of the joint earnings.  It was, therefore, a very strong social unit caring for the elderly, sick, disabled and so on.  Babies and the sick always had nurses and children playfellows.  It also suffered from the disadvantage that it encouraged parasites and sapped individual initiative.  Furthermore there was no privacy.

A typical day began before dawn at 4 am when the more religious had a bath in the icy water and began their prayers.   Women did the same and then got down to their household chores like churning buttermilk and making butter. In the summer peasant farmers plough at night because it is too hot during the day.  Just before dawn the temples and mosques were full.  Hindus in their temples paid homage to the sun and made offerings to their gods.  The Muezzin or Mullah had called his faithful to prayer from his minaret.  Some would be seen chewing on acacia or margosa sticks which were used as toothbrushes.

Most Indians have two large meals a day one after prayers and a bath and one late in the afternoon.  In many cases this consisted of chapattis or rice with lentils or other vegetables washed down with buttermilk.  Those who could afford it would add meat, fowl or fish if their religion allowed.

Many Indians were strict vegetarians and so ate no meat, eggs, fish etc.  In addition orthodox members of the many religious sects had their own meticulous and complex preparation rules.  An example of this is that of the Brahmin soldiers who had to prepare their own food in their own cooking vessels and who could not eat it if even the shadow of an unbeliever passed over it at any stage. 

The villagers had few pastimes.  After a day in the fields, household chores the heat and so on the average villager had little will for anything but food and rest.  Some played board games and occasionally there were team games for the young.  The children played with home made toys in the dust.  However, occasions like births, weddings, deaths and religious festivals were celebrated for extended periods by way of compensation.

Women had a special and honoured place in Hindu society.  The Hindu gods set the style and they were monogamous.  Hindu women ruled the roost whilst their Muslim sisters were kept under tight control.

Most Indian women were well covered in brightly coloured clothing.  However those working in the fields often gathered their skirts up over their knees.  Even poor women wore a remarkable amount of silver and gold rings, bangles, anklets and necklaces.  For most, this represented their entire wealth.     

Men who wore the dhoti (loin cloth) often wore a shirt with the tail outside.  Those from Rajahstan, the Rajputs, often replaced the common white turban with a brightly coloured one of red, yellow, blue or other striking colour.  The turban of a Rajput was made up from 30 to 40 feet of thin muslin.

Brahmins were generally of a lighter skin colour and wore a sacred thread over one shoulder.  They often wore the mark of one of the Hindu gods chalked on their foreheads when visiting the temple.  They had extremely strict notions observing ceremonial purity.  By defined the ideal of dharma (duty), they made it the goal of all Hindus.  The closer a group lived to this ideal the higher its caste.  Only the Brahmins themselves were able to interpret, teach and preach the sacred doctrines. 


The history of India was one on invasion and war from early times.  The Persian invaders, who founded the Moghul dynasty, being one of the latest.  Thus it was that minor nobles and dignitaries abounded.  The Emperor held his court in Delhi, his lands were watched over by the Zemindars (princes) who owned the land.  They employed Talukdars (lords) to gather in the taxes and Chowkiedars (policemen) to protect the land.  Other parts were ruled over by independent and semi independent Rajahs (rulers) and Maharajahs (kings) with their own hierarchies.  The list below gives a summary of some of the titles and their approximate English meaning.






Great King


Learned man, often a doctor.  (usually Muslim)




Great King


Female ruler





Sipah Sirdar

Lord of Troops, General







Personalities, Employments and Warriors

Many Indian job titles came to represent a class of individuals or came to be used as a general descriptor. Their use is so frequent in documents of the period that a summary is helpful.




Used as a title meaning “champion or hero”


Good person

Baba log

Good (loyal, honest) peple, HEIC employees




Kabuli or Afghan


Money lender





Darzi, Derzi



Poor holy man


Envoy, Agent


Native Official (Magistrate) of the Bazaar


camp follower, general labourer


Hereditary elephant driver


Workman, builder, mason




Undisciplined but well armed rebel soldier.


Follower of a Rajah

Sirdar, sirkar

Headman, Officer in Charge

Suddeer Bazaar

Headman of the Bazaar


Village Headman


Afghan soldiers of fortune

Hereditary Employments

In many regions employment was hereditary being passed from father to son.  In some cases this extended to entire tribes or races having a virtual monopoly.  Indeed, it went so far that being a bandit was also a hereditary employment and recognised as such.  Sometimes the tradition arose from the geography, sometimes as a result of a conquest or the employment of mercenaries.




Professional Bandit


Mountaineer - usually a Rajput


Hereditary cowherd


Hereditary Brigand


Hereditary warrior tribe of Rajputs

Nimuk Haram

rebel, mutineer, disloyal men - lit.  “breaker of salt”

Languages and Alphabets

For the purposes of these wargame rules the myriad of dialects and languages have been tabulated below.  The common European languages such as English, French, German and Portuguese are not included although they were widely spoken by europeans and Indians alike.  The Classical languages, Greek and Latin, were frequently used between Europeans, for written communications, especially where language or translation could pose difficulties.  Almost all officers and civil servants educated in the British Public School system understood to a greater of lesser degree the Classics.  Because of this Latin and Greek were frequently used as simple codes.

The table below is for the purposes of the rules only.  It is not linguistically authentic and takes several liberties.






Common language of Bengal


Hindi / Urdu

Hybrid of Hindi and Urdu used to communicate with servants



A general common language used by the lower classes



Polite version of Hindi, the common tongue of Northern India (rather than Bengali).  The languages were similar but the alphabets were very different.  The Urdu script was particularly difficult to master.



Afghan Common Language



Indian Court Language



Chinese Court language



Area language



Common Language of the Ghurkas

It is interesting to note that while all Chinese dialects are different they share a common writing system.  In this way written communications would be pronounced differently depending upon dialect but the meaning would remain the same.  In this way, although two Chinese could not understand the dialect of each other they will understand perfectly the written word - if they can read!



The Hindu believes in the Oneness of the Supreme Being that, for convenience and simplicity, is worshipped as having three major attributes.  It is described as a trinity:

                Brahma   the Creator

                Vishnu    the Preserver

                Shiva      the Destroyer

Brahma used to be worshipped as the most important of the gods.  Uniquely, among Hindu gods, he has had no incarnations and is usually depicted as having four heads each holding sway over a quarter of the universe.  The four Vedas are supposed to have emanated from the heads.  He is the god of wisdom.

Sarasvati is Brahma’s consort.  She is often depicted riding, swimming or playing the lute.  She is the goddess of wisdom.

Vishnu is the Preserver of the Universe and is shown as having four arms.  The upper two hold a discus and a conch shell.  His consort is Lakshmi the enchantingly lovely goddess of wealth and prosperity.  Vishnu has had ten incarnations (avatars) of which the first was Rama, the warrior hero.  In this incarnation his consort is Sita the ideal of Indian womanhood.  The eighth incarnation is Krishna who is usually shown as a handsome, blue skinned youth with four arms.  He is the expression of all that is best in human love and devotion.

Shiva (or Siva) is the terrible and feared god of destruction.  He commands war, pestilence, famine, death and related disasters (floods and the like).  He has an extra eye in the middle of his forehead, tiger skins cover his loins and a snake coils around his body.  Shiva is often drawn carrying a battleaxe, a trident and a bowl made from a human skull.   His favoured mount is the sacred bull, Nandi.

Shiva’s consort, Parvati, had many attributes; each was known by a different name: 

·         as Parvati she is a sensually beautiful woman or a loving wife

·         as Durga she is a ten armed goddess of battle carrying 10 weapons of retribution

·         as Kali she is the black goddess who has conquered time, she wears a garland of skulls, her red tongue hangs out thirstily.  She is propitiated by sacrifices.  Her followers, the Thuggee or Thugs (from thag to strangle), offered human sacrifices by ritual strangulation with a weighted scarf.

 Ganesha (Ganessa or Ganesh) is the son of Siva and Parvati who wears an elephant’s head.  This is as a result of his father cutting off Ganesha’s head.  He is the most common household god.  Almost every Hindu home has a shrine with a statue.  The traditional offering is food and milk.  He is the god of the home, prudence and prosperity.  The large shrines dedicated are often overrun with rats because of the huge amounts of rotting offerings and the fact that the rat is sacred to Ganesha.

There are many, many more gods and goddesses some with several incarnations.  An encyclopaedia of religions and/or mythology is useful for background reading. 


In contrast to the Hindu the Muslim believes in one true God, Allah.  Incidentally this is the same God as Judaism and Christianity.  There are no graven images to profane the worship of Allah.  There is no separate paid priesthood, the priests are members of the community - shopkeepers, doctors, farmers and so on. 

The One God gave equality to all believers so there is no caste system.  The prophet Mohammed is believed to be the last and greatest of the prophets.  The sacred book is the Koran (or Qran) which was revealed by the prophet Mohammed.  Cleanliness was exceptionally important to a Muslim and ritual washing was an important precursor to prayer.

The devout (male) Muslim has 5 duties:

·         Belief in the One True God

·         prayers five times a day

·         giving alms to the poor and needy

·         a month’s fast every year (Ramadan)

·         a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

Those who have completed the pilgrimage (the Haj) often add the title Haji to their name.  They would frequently wear a green turban to show their completion of the pilgrimage.  

Women are excused the rigours of the five duties to a certain extent to allow them to be able to carry out the tasks associated with the home and raising the family.  Islamic women worship separately in the mosque and do not mix with their men folk at prayers. 

The mosque is the place of communal worship.  It is a court surrounded by walls which were often highly decorated and arched.  The court was usually roofed over and surmounted by a dome which acted as an amplifier for the prayer leader.  There was always at least one minaret (tower) from which the muezzin called the faithful to prayer five times a day.     On one side was a prayer niche.  Men prayed in the court while the women were segregated, often in a gallery or separate room.

Like many established religions there were sects within the Islamic faith.  The two most common were the Shia Muslims who had a more fundamental interpretation of Islam and the Sunni who were more liberal in outlook.  Both sects were to be found in North India.


The Sikh religion began in the fifteenth century as an offshoot of Hinduism to bridge the gap between Islam and Hinduism.  It was founded by Guru (teacher) Nanak who preached against the hypocrisy in religion.  Later, in the seventeenth century the Guru Gobind Singh forged the martial aspect. 

The religious symbols (known as the 5 Ks):

·         Kesh               unshorn hair for strength and virility

·         Kangha          the comb to hold it

·         Kara                steel bracelet for prudence

·         Kirpan            sword for protection

·         Kachla            shorts


The Jains have no supernatural beliefs; theirs is a purely philosophical “religion”.  They believe that the right conduct including non-violence and a total tolerance of other religions, the right knowledge, the right faith and chastity lead to salvation.  Jains believe in the utmost sanctity of life.  Their ideal is to attain release from the tyrannies of material existence and gain a separate soulful state. 

They are easily distinguished by the white face cloth.  It is worn to prevent them breathing in small insects and thus killing them.


The Sadhus were wandering holy men who wore only a rope or a thin strip of cloth.  Occasionally they went completely naked.  They wandered throughout India their bodies smeared with ashes and their hair matted.  They carried a begging bowl and a trident in their hands.


The Parsees fled from Persia to escape the persecutions of the of the Muslim invaders.  They started to arrive in India in 766 and, by 1857, were mainly found in Bombay.  They follow the “path of Asha”, a path of action, good words and deeds.  Their holy book is the “Zend Avesta”  which describes the eternal fight between good and evil together with Man’s duty in the conflict.


Prince Siddhartha, a scion of a small kingdom between Nepal and India, was struck by the suffering of the masses brought on by sickness, old age and other miseries.  This knowledge became a personal problem and he abandoned his life of pleasure and sat in contemplation for several days under a Bodhi tree.  Afterwards, he wandered the land living austerely and suffering the same hardships as the ordinary folk.  He then became the Buddha (The Enlightened One).

As all things are doomed to destruction in this universe, Man, therefore, suffers, decays and dies, corroded from the inside by his desires and moral evils.  Good deeds, on the other hand, enable him to rise up the scale of birth and rebirth.  Emancipation from birth and rebirth can only be achieved when Nirvana is reached and so becoming free from the cycle of reincarnation. 

The Buddha condemned pure asceticism as the road to spiritual enlightenment.  He showed the way to Nirvana as a four fold path:

·         The awakening of heart and mind, both susceptible to earthly attachments

·         The recognition that hatred and impure desires bar Man’s path to enlightenment

·         To struggle to be freed from desires, ignorance, doubt, unkindness and anxiety

·         To walk on the final road to Nirvana, which is the ultimate goal.

After converting his 5 disciples he sent them to different parts of the country.  The Buddha is normally depicted sitting cross-legged on a lotus plinth.  His eyes are closed except when preaching and his hair tightly curled and tied in a topknot.

The hand position of the statue or picture shows:

·         Hands upraised                        - teaching

·         Hands folded                            - meditating

·         Right arm forward, left on lap     - witnessing


Christianity in its many forms was present in India.  There were many Indians who had embraced Christianity as well as the Europeans themselves.  The prevalent forms were those that exist today, Roman Catholicism, Episcopalian, Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist and others.  Many of the churches sent out missionaries in addition to those who saw converting the heathen as their vocation.

Indian Christians were a particular target of the Mutineers and suffered torture and atrocities at their hands.

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