Karaikal: April 11th, 1743? Quarto Ca. 24 x 18.5 cm (9 ¼ x 7 ¼ in.) 22 pp. Legible dark brown manuscript ink on beige laid paper. Period blue mottled paper stiff card wrappers. Mild wear at extremities, mild foxing of the front paste down, some dust soiling on first page, otherwise a very good legible manuscript.
This historically interesting document details the Indian caste system, using anecdotes, comparisons with French social classes, and parallels to biblical stories to illustrate the author's ethnographic observations. The manuscript was written in Karaikal, a town acquired by the French East India Company in 1739 and located about 140 km south of Puducherry, likely by a missionary tasked with reporting on the challenges facing Christianity in India, as he answers two main questions: “If Indian peoples’ ways are frivolous and childish,” and “Whether Indian peoples’ customs are superstitious.” The author begins by explaining that, having lived in India for several years and knowing several local languages, he is elucidating the mysteries of the caste system on which French people are ill-informed.
After describing the details of the four castes, Brahmin, Raj, Vaisya and Sudra, including their hierarchy, advantages, the purpose of this social structure, and the experience of those who lose their caste, the author observes: “We would not be surprised therefore that Indians are as much if not more attached to their caste that makes up their nobility as our gentlemen are to their own […] the fear of losing their caste is capable of making them sacrifice their own lives to maintain it, we saw a striking example a few months ago in the presence of a young stranger whose hunger had made terribly thin […] his appearance inspired the pity of several French people who gathered around him. One of them had rice and meat fetched for him, we were surprised by his refusal to eat […] but dying seemed to him less frightful than losing his honour by eating something that he knew had been prepared by Pariahs.”
To his first question “If Indian peoples’ ways are frivolous and childish,” the author responds that “all nations criticize each other in this way […] if Indian people asked us […] why we salute each other by uncovering our head […] what would we have to answer other than it is our custom and we must conform to not appear uncivil and ridiculous, this is also what would happen to Indians, and what ties them to their ways, for which (for the most part) we could find good reasons […] they leave their shoes at the front door of their home to avoid bringing indoors filth that they picked up outside.”
To his second question of “Whether Indian peoples’ customs are superstitious,” he observes that they have superstitious practices, but not all Indian customs are superstitious. He explores in detail whether or not customs and beliefs surrounding Pariahs and Cows are superstitious. In his conclusion, the author questions whether it is necessary to abolish the caste system in order to enable the spread of Christianity. A very interesting record of social practices in India and the interaction between Christianity and Indian social structures and beliefs.
French India, formally the Établissements Français dans l'Inde ("French establishments in India"), was a French colony comprising geographically separate enclaves on the Indian subcontinent. The possessions were originally acquired by the French East India Company beginning in the second half of the 17th century and included Pondichéry, Karikal and Yanaon on the Coromandel Coast, Mahé on the Malabar Coast and Chandernagor in Bengal.
Price: $2,250.00 USD