Mayhem,Maps and Names

Occasionally, this writer sits and ponders maps. In fact, this writer spends an awful lot of time pondering maps. In my unceasing effort to provide some sense of accuracy to my posts, I first must be clear as to what I am writing about, who is my object and of course, where is this event taking place. I then take care of the how as the when is quite clear.
I like to know everything I can about a place before I venture to describe the events which took place there. I also like having a visual reference – for example, if there is a church mentioned in an account, I want to know if it is still there and can I find a picture. If I can, then I have visual reference for myself that makes it easier to understand the accounts I read. However, first I have to find the it..
Anyone accustomed with the 19th century and earlier will be aware that place names on the Indian subcontinent were assigned in a rather whimsical fashion, following flights of fancy rather than any rules. So Kanpur can be Cawnpore to some, Canpoor, Cawnpoor, Cawnpur or even the immensely irritating Kànhpur to others. Lucknow as been written as Lakhnao, Meerut can Mirath or Mirut. Some authors could not even make up their minds in their own narratives – as the accounts were written sometimes decades after their escapes and not written while dashing about the countryside, I see little excuse for writing Sitapoor in one chapter and reverting to Seetapore in the next. It is not so much a problem when dealing with larger towns. With a sense of geography one can generally find a bigger town on a map even if the name has been changed to a modern spelling. Sitapur sounds like Sitapoor or even Seetapore, the problem starts with small places.
With a bit of experience, one can generally figure out the modern spelling and thus locate it on a modern map. Yet what happens to small places? Mitauli, Muhmadi, Powayan – they do not have typical “poore/pur/pore” endings to go by and having had their names savaged into an unrecognizable mess, such as Moohamdhi, Mithooli and Puwyan? With a basic idea of where these places should be located in relation to Shajahanpur and Sitapur, I scanned maps until I found names that fit. I can assure you, my dear reader, this method can cost one many hours of an already short life.


Here are a few of my favourite old maps. These are from

Then some of a newer vintage from “Red Year: the Indian Rebellion of 1857” by Michael Edwards, (1975).

Maps help to

a. locate a place – if it was worthy of mention it is on one of these old maps
b. find a spelling that was accepted by map makers instead of a fantastical phonetic version
c. compare the old map with new ones to ascertain if the place still exists in the modern world or if it has, quite possibly, been wiped off the map.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as all of these are, they do not solve another problem.

Those Rajas

and those tehsildars, thakurs, taluqdars and zamindars…

I shall try to keep this brief, even though nothing seems to have a ready answer and these explanations only scratch the surface of titles in the Indian ruling system:

A tehsildar is a tax collector for a tehsil or township.

Simply put, a thakur is a master of an estate. It is not a more modest title than rajah and it has also been used to describe a “petty chief.” Of course this does not mean he was necessarily petty in personage! They did not have a tremendous amount of power but would have had influence in their areas.

Talukdars could be compared more easily to the landed aristocracy. They had actual power over their holdings and could hold the following positions depending on where in India they were located:

(1) A tax collector with administrative power over a district of several villages

(2) An official and civil servant ,equivalent to a magistrate and tax collector – more common in Hydrabad State.

(3) A landholder with peculiar tenures

(4) Landholders dividing taxes for the Zamindars.

Zamindar – this was a hereditary, aristocratic title given to land owners. They would have held large swathes of land with the accompanying peasentry whom they could tax at will on behalf of imperial courts or for the military. They were autonomous or semi autonomous rulers who would give their allegiance to higher power than themselves, such as an royal court or a emperor. A zamindar could be bestowed any of the following titles by the British, provided they proved their loyalty – Raja, Maharaja, Rai Saheb, Rai Bahadur, Rao, Nawab, Khan Bahadur. These titles were also bestowed upon princely state rulers.

No one in 19th century England could decide how to spell proper names with any consistancy. Raja Lone Singh was even given the unceremonious name of Looni Sing in one account – I did half consider using this spelling in my writing, all things considered, but I finally decided to use the acceptable modern version of Lone Singh. This one was fairly simple but sometimes it is not so straightforward. Many of the talukdars, zamindars and thakurs can no longer be traced and no matter how many tricks I try, I cannot find out the modern equivalent of their name. So the Dhourund Raja remains as does Dhowraria Raja. As does Raja Rundhooj Singh and his village of Bumpurpore.
As they did not spare the Indians from this barbaric naming catastrophe, they equally refused to spare anyone else. Journals are packed with a wide variety of spellings – Thompson can be Thomson, De Reveria can be Devenerra or perhaps just Reveira, it could be Sanders or Saunders and woe betide me, if any of them are married, his wife will simply remain as “the wife of…”, while children are rarely named at all. There is nothing more frustrating then to get to the end of transcribing a list of names and find that the author most unkindly ends with “9 sergeants and their wives.” It just never occurred to them that 164 years later someone might find this all a bit trying.Perhaps they just never thought that anything would ever change.

And so, the adventure continues.