The Smith Administration XIV

A King’s Ashes

(notes by David Page)

First Publication

Published 30th December 1887 in the Pioneer and on 4th January 1888 in the Pioneer Mail.

The article

This article reports on the final obsequies of the Maharajah of Gwalior, Sir Jiaji Rao Scindia (1835-1886), whose ashes were consigned to the sacred River Ganges. It includes a detailed description of the event, the crowds of priests with their flags, the closely-packed boats of the mourners, the elephant and fine white horse given to the priests, the slimy pulp of mud and stale flowers, and the gruesome kneading of the remains by naked men out on the river. It is a vivid account of a strange scene, which Kipling clearly found an incongruous end for a distinguished man. One should perhaps add that it also expresses Kipling’s own distaste for many aspects of the practice of Hinduism.


On the death of the previous Maharajah, grave disturbances broke out regarding the regency. The British defeated the State Army on 29 December 1843 at Maharajpur and Punniar. Jiaji was placed on the throne in January 1844 following the making of a treaty at Gwalior.

During the Sepoy Rebellion the Maharajah remained loyal to the British, though compelled to fly to Agra when the contingent force at Gwalior rebelled. He was re-established at Gwalior by Sir Hugh Rose and handsomely rewarded for his loyalty. Another treaty was made with him in 1864 and in 1886 the fort of Gwalior was handed back; after that the State was a faithful ally. [Dictionary of Indian Biography by C.E. Buckland, 1906].

In November 1887 Kipling was transferred from the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore to the Pioneer in Allahabad. As a first task for the Pioneer he made a journey through Rajputana, the reports of which he later collected in Letters of Marque in volume one of From Sea to Sea. Shortly after his return to Allahabad be wrote this report before going on a journey through Bengal to Calcutta in January / February 1888.

In 1890 he wrote a rousing account of an epic ride by an earlier Scindia, “With Scindia to Delhi”.


Notes on the Text

[Page 403, line 30] 1888 This date should be 1887, when the article was first published. Whether this error appeared in the Pioneer or Pioneer Mail is not known.

[Page 403, line 30] Wednesday morning last calculated to have been 23 December 1887.

[Page 403, line 31] Gwalior a Hindu state south of Agra. The city of Gwalior lies about 76 miles due south of Agra and about 250 miles WSW of Allahabad.

[Page 404, line 1] Allahabad Fort to the east of the town where the Jumna River joins the Ganges.[ORG]

[Page 404, line 2] Scindia or Sindia – a Maratha family of lowly origin which gradually climbed to importance in Gwalior where the family name has become the title of the ruler. In 1790 the Scindia defeated a Muslim force, and a few years later became the most powerful prince in India.[ORG]

[Page 404, line 9] chappar villages a collection of frame houses covered with grass or straw. These villages are quite common on the Ganges (see Slowly Down the Ganges by Eric Newby, 1966.)

[Page 404, lines 11& 12] confluence of the Jumna and the Ganges is revered as Prayag, a Hindu pilgrimage site where a third subterranean river (the Sarasvati) is also believed to join the Jumna and the Ganges. Eric Newby in Slowly Down the Ganges writes that it is:

…perhaps the most venerated place of pilgrimage in all India and, on certain days of the Mela, the great fair, the scene of what is almost certainly the greatest assemblage of people gathered together in a confined space for a single purpose anywhere on earth.

[Page 404, lines 12 & 13] fakirs, gurus, gosains, sanyasis these are all religious devotees: beggars, spiritual guides or teachers, saints or holy persons, religious mendicants.

[Page 404, line 27] jaghir land given by government as a reward for service.

[Page 404, line 28] Sir Michael Filose employed as an architect, etc, at Gwalior. He was the grandson of Col. Jean Baptiste Filose (1775-1846) and great-grandson of Col. Michael Filose, a Neapolitan adventurer who had served in the French army at Madras after 1797, both of whom had fought for the Scindia at various times. (Dictionary of Indian Biography by C.E. Buckland, 1906).

[Page 405, line 30] Ten thousand rupees £666.[ORG]

[Page 405, line 33] trident of Shiva or trisul is a three-pointed javelin or trident. Shiva, or Siva, is the third of the great Hindu triad of gods, with Brahma and Vishnu.

[Page 406, line 22] G.C.B., G.C.S.I. the late Maharaja had been a good ally of Britain and these letters indicated that he had been honoured by the Queen with the highest degree of the Order of the Bath, and the Viceroy of India had recommended him for the highest grade in the Order of the Star of India.[ORG]

©David Page 2009 All rights reserved