Sanatana Dharma – Through the eyes of travellers

Various distinguished scholars in their travels have written about the honesty, idealism, and magnanimity of the followers of Sanatana Dharma.

Sanatana Dharma – Through the eyes of travellers


Sanatana Dharma encompasses ideals such as justice, honesty, altruism, chivalry and non-violence since the dawn of its civilization, Sanatanis (Hindus) living in Bharath upheld and practiced these ideals in their daily lives. Foreign travellers speak of the high integrity, magnanimity and compassion which the Hindus possessed.

Megesthenes the Greek ambassador lived in the court of Chandragupta Maurya, who ruled the kingdom of Magadha during 322-298 BCE. He observes that the average Hindu was law-abiding, frugal in their habits and simple in manners. They never drink wine except at sacrifices. The simplicity of their laws and their contracts is proved by the fact that they seldom go to the court of law. They have no suits about pledges or deposits, nor do they require seals or witnesses but make their deposits and confide in each other. Their houses and property are generally unguarded. They hold truth and virtue in high esteem. Continuing, he says that Hindus neither ravaged an enemy’s land nor cut down its trees. It is said that famine never visited India nor scarcity for food felt as there was double rainfall each year. The Hindus treated diseases more by diet than by medicine though ointment and plasters were used. People practiced fortitude by undergoing toil and suffering pain.

Fa-Hien the Chinese traveller who visited India during 5th century CE says

“Throughout the whole country the people do not kill any living creatures nor drink intoxicating drinks; they do eat onions or garlic and do not keep pigs and fowls or sell live cattle in the market”.

He mentions houses of charity and dispensaries run by the people belonging to Vaisya caste, where maimed, diseased, crippled, orphans, widowers and childless were fed and treated. Fa-Hien also speaks about the existence of rest houses for travellers and free hospitals. “No passport system existed, those who want to go may go and those who want to stop may stop”, he adds.

Hindus known for their courage, honesty and learning

Another Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang who visited India during 630 CE, says that Hindus were remarkable for their courage, honesty, and love for learning. They are not deceitful or treacherous in their conduct. They are faithful in their oaths and promises. He also speaks of their personal hygiene– “floors of the houses were purified with cow dung and strewn with season flowers. They bathed daily, smeared their bodies with sandal and washed hands before meals”. I-Tsing who visited India around 671 CE, also speaks of the high personal hygiene of the Hindus.

Regarding justice and honesty of the Hindus, Al Idrisi in his work, Nazhatu I Mushtak– writes

“The Indians are naturally inclined to justice and never depart from it in their action. Their good faith, honesty and fidelity to their engagements are well known and they are so famous for these qualities that people flock to their country from every side; hence the country is flourishing and their condition prosperous. If a man met another to whom he had earlier lend something and if he wished to get it back, he used to draw a circular line upon the ground where his debtor was standing and the latter could not leave this circle without returning back his creditor what he owed or obtain remission from him.”

Altruism of high order

Not only were the Hindus known for their sense of justice but also altruism of high order. For instance, during the 12th century there lived in Kalyan (Bidar district in Karnataka) an idealistic Veerashaiva couple, Aaidakki Marayya and his wife Lakkamma. Aaidakki Marayya’s profession was to gather rice grains scattered on the ground. (many rich people used to donate rice to the poor who used to collect it in their torn clothes, as a result, there was seepage of rice which used to fall on the ground) Once Aaidakki Marayya engrossed in his thoughts brought more rice than the usual measure. His wife Lakkamma reminded him that greed in excess to one’s needs was against their dharma and insisted upon him taking back the excess rice and scattering it where he had picked it from. This shows the high idealism of Lakkamma. Speaking of extravagance Gandhiji said- ‘nature has given enough for all of our wants but not for our greed. If everybody took enough for his wants then there would be no pauperism in this world.’

Display of Magnanimity against arch-rivals

In 1519 CE, Mahmud Khilji, the ruler of Malwa invaded the territory of Medini Rai, an ally of Rana Sangram Singh, the ruler of Mewar. For this audacity on the part of Mahmud, Rana decided to teach him a lesson and in the ensuing battle defeated Mahmud and took him as prisoner. As Mahmud was wounded and bleeding, Rana had him removed with care to his own camp, where his wounds were carefully dressed and properly treated. He was then removed to Chittoor, where he remained a prisoner for three months. The Maharana used to treat Mahmud with great courtesy and friendship, so far at times as to make him sit on a portion of own seat in the Durbar. One day while the Mahmud was so seated, an attendant brought some flowers and the Maharana taking up, a bunch was about to give it to Mahmud, when the latter said “there were two ways of giving a thing, you hold your hand up and bestow it on an inferior or keep your hand low and tender it to a superior”. “The latter course was out of question as I am your prisoner”, said Mahmud and added that he is not ready to extend his palm like a suppliant merely for a bunch of flowers. The Maharana was pleased to hear this from Mahmud and generously said that half the kingdom of Malwa went with the bunch of flowers. Mahmud was filled with joy and gladly extended his palm and took the flowers. The third day the Maharana bade farewell to Mahmud and sent him with an escort to Mandu and seated him on the throne.

Respect for women

Abdur Rahim Khan-i- Khan, the adopted son of Akbar was once sent to fight Rana Pratap, for his refusal to submit before the Mughals. Abdur Rahim with 20,000 soldiers went on a rampage in Mewar and thousands of Rajput men and women died fighting for their honour and liberty. Though Mewar bled, it did not surrender. One evening prince Amar Singh, son of Pratap, in a surprise raid carried away a part of the Khan’s harem. But Pratap reprimanded him and said-

“The honour of women is dear to us and to lay hand on women is to denounce god and is against the Rajput code of conduct. Never again my son, should you be guilty of such a lapse”,

Pratap advised his son. Pratap himself apologised to the ladies for the mistake made by his son. He extended to them honours customary to be shown to honoured guests in Rajput house and sent them back under heavy military escort to the Mughal camp. Abdur Rahim was overwhelmed by the Rana’s gesture.

Keeping one’s word

The Portuguese who came to India for trade were also involved in other criminal activities like taking Indians as captives for ransom or to use them as labourers. Once Correa, as a leader of a trading party took among their captives an old Brahmin who did not have any capacity for work. The old Brahmin offered Correa three pounds for his liberty and asked that he be allowed to fetch the money himself as he had no friend. As Correa had no use of that old Brahmin, he agreed after making the Brahmin swear by his sacred thread that he would not cheat Correa of the money. A few days later the old Brahmin, to the amazement of Correa, returned with half the money and eight fowls in lieu of the rest. It is said that Correa was so overwhelmed by the Brahmin’s honesty, that he refused to take anything from him.

Compassion Unlimited

Non-violence is a character ingrained in Hindus. When the British East India Company was calling the shots, its servants who were ill-paid used to shoot doves and pigeons for food. The Hindus would implore them not to do this and would as a last resort offer them money to spare the poor birds. This method of persuasion was so successful that it became a regular practice for insolvent young company servants who were in debt, and hence used to take out a gun near some rich Hindu’s house and talk loudly & ferociously about the number of pigeons they would massacre, till the Hindu ran out in tears in his eyes and money in his hands.

Probably the very idealism which Hindus possessed became a liability and the country had to face successive invasions, deaths, destruction, loot and rape of its citizen by waves of barbarians, jihadists and colonialists.

About Author: Srinivas S

S. Srinivas is a historian and researcher who has worked for over a decade as a lecturer; assistant editor for Quarterly Journal of Mythic Society as well as a journalist. He was awarded a Ph.D. by Bangalore University for his thesis on the History of Civic Administration in Bangalore(1862-1950). Currently, he is fully engaged in writing on topics pertaining to ancient India.

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