A Memoir of the Mughal Empire

About this text

Introductory notes

A Memoir of the Mughal Empire was published in 2014.It was written by Jean Law de Lauriston and translated from French into English by G.S.Cheema. It gives an account of life in the Mughal court as well as a glimpse of life outside it. Jean Law de Lauriston was born in 1719.He was twice the Governor General of Pondicherry. He died in 1797.Selections have been made from A Memoir of the Mughal Empire with an emphasis on the nature of food production as well as the customs of Indians. Primary Reading de Lauriston Jean Law, A Memoir of the Mughal Empire, Ajay Kumar Jain for Manohar Publishers &Distributors,2014. Secondary Reading de Thévenot,Jean, The travels of Monsieur de Thevenot into the Levant in three parts, H. Clark.

A Memoir of
the Mughal Empire
Events of 1757-1761
Translated from the Original French by

New Delhi.
PUBLISHED by Ajay Kumar Jain for Manohar Publishers & Distributors

1. CHAPTER 8 Manners and Customs of the Gentiles and the Moors

[Page 166]

The four principal castes (or tribes) are the Bramins who spring from the head of Brumma, the Kettrys, soldiers or Kings who spring from the heart of Brumma, the Byses (labourers, money-lenders, merchants) who spring from the stomach of Brumma, and lastly the Soudders who spring from the feet of Brumma, who constitute the artisans, workers, domestics and servants.

There are Bramins of various degrees of excellence, who have the care of religion allotted to them. These are held sacred by the rest: they swear by their heads, they kiss their feet, and the bramins have the entire government of their minds, and as such do not follow any worldly pursuits, and are supported by the rest, which is a great burden upon the land. It is difficult to draw a general charachter of the Bramins, as they vary so much in their different pursuits and in their degrees of knowledge.

[Page 168]

The highest Bramins cannot eat anything that has life. If with the help of a microscope, you show them the insects in the fruits, and in the milk which they eat and drink, they will tell you that it is a mistake on your part; that the seen object is in the glass and not in what they eat. Their abstinence from all meat, comes no doubt from the doctrine of metempsychosis, but how to reconcile this opinion with the permission which the other Gentiles have, and many of the Bramins eat many kinds of fish, mutton of goat and nearly all kinds of wild beasts? Certain terrestrial or aquatic animals that are permitted to one caste are forbidden to another, there are none but the last, that is to say, a fifth caste formed by those called halalkhors or pariahs, who are allowed to eat anything, but they are always regarded as impure.

The only sacred animals are the cow, the bull, the calf and certain wild birds. The domestic fowl is regarded as impure among the Gentiles, even more than the pig among the Moors. I have said that it was permitted among certain Bramins to eat certain meats. I had in my service one who daily ate the meat of the goat. As for the rest, it is, I think, according to the circumstances in which the Bramin finds himself.

[Page 171]

The majority of the Gentiles live on milk, rice and seasonal vegetables, seasones with spices. They are happy with this diet, not so much on account of their religion but because it is cheap, because with the exception of the Bramins and one or two other castes, they are permitted fish and certain meats; also those who are in a position to produce these delicacies rarely, deny themselves. There are certain castes, among whom one sees entire families, who however rich, are noted for observing the restrictions on diet even more scrupulously than Bramins, whether out of devotion, or ostentation. They do not permit even the burning of tallow because it is derived from animals. They must, therefore, you will say, also abstain from milk and woollen clothing. But there is a difference; milk and wool are taken from the animal without causing any suffering.

[Page 175]

When the Indians travel by river, and particularly on the Ganges, they cannot cook their meals on the boat. They sustain themselves throughout the journey by chewing betel, dry fruits, and some rice or other grains cooked over a fire in the evening. When evening falls, the boat is brought to the shore, so that the cooking can be done, but the precautions are as elaborate as those observed by the Bramins. It is here that i have had occasion to observe them several times while sailing on the Ganges with a considerable fleet. Some times I had with me more than a thousand rowers, of whom three fourths were Gentiles.

[Page 184]


There were certain differences that i thought I observed between the charachters and customs of the people of the parts of India which I was passing through. The further north one goes the people appear to be fiercer and more resolute. The native of Bengal is naturally timid, that of Bihar or Patna a little less so, and those of the provinces still further away, are generally recognized to be brave brave. Their bodies are more robust and their upbringing more masculine.

[Page 189]

The Moorish lords are extremely polite and just as insincere. Compliments cost nothing. They have, as indeed nearly all the Gentiles, a wonderful way of expressing themselves. This comes I believe from their manner of life, or rather their way of passing time. Little inclined to the study of science or other abstract re flections, conversation is their chief amusement and subject of their unique study and they will sometimes come up with the most recherche expressions. They are great lovers of poetry; there are those who will not speak except in verse, and in the course of conversation they will come up with the most admirable quotations from Arabian and Persian poets.

[Page 192]


Rice is not nearly as common as in Bengal or the Deccan. There are not many people rich enough to consume it every day. The poor people consume wheat and other grains which they make into small cakes which they call chappaties. They are cooked over charcoal or on a hot iron griddle. It doesn't take much time. Twice a week they will feast on coarse rice; it is a treat for the whole family. The usual drink is water, but as there is no place on earth which does not have some kind of intoxicating liquor, they make here a kind of arrack which is extremely strong, with fermented grain and jaggery, which is a dark sugar (from which they make white sugar) obtained from certain canes which they boil with certain other ingredients. The Moors and Gentiles, the soldiers above all, drink from the [...]to put on weight and strengthen themselves. It is common butter boiled with butter oil and mixed with more fat.

The fruits found in the provinces of Shuja ud-Daulah are the same as in Bengal. The kharbooja, or musk melon, is better here, but the mango is not as good. Besides, the quantity is also much less. One finds plenty of tobacco of excellent quality, particularly around Benares; the cotton is good, the flax, superior to ours, and the sugar cane plentiful. Their sugar refineries are also better than ours, but one does not see any coconuts or bamboos. Instead of bamboos the people use the branches of trees which they cut from the woods, or the mountains. The dwellings of the poor people [Page 193] also lack the symmetry which one finds in those constructed with bamboos and palms. Saltpetre is produced in the vicinity of the cities of Lucknow and Awadh (Ayodhya). They could also produce opium, but all those articles which in Bengal and Patna are the objects of grand commerce are produced here only for local con sumption. I would however except sugar, which is transported to the north, from this list.

This is a selection from the original text


animals, cakes, fish, fruit, mutton, rice, water

Source text

Title: A Memoir of the Mughal Empire

Author: Jean Law de Lauriston

Editor(s): G.S. Cheema

Publisher: Ajay Kumar Jain for Manohar Publishers & Distributors

Publication date: 2014

Original compiled c.1719-1797

Place of publication: New Delhi

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Internet Archive: http://archive.org. Original compiled c.1719-1797

Digital edition

Original author(s): Jean Law de Lauriston

Original editor(s): G.S. Cheema

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) tp, Selections from Manners and Customs of the Gentiles and the Moors


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

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Genre: India > non-fiction prose > travel narratives and reports

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