Louis Rousselet was an extraordinary French traveler who visited India for six years (1864-70) and has left behind one of the most detailed accounts of these years’ study of India, its historic monuments, religious beliefs, old civilization and customs and manners of its diverse people. His main objective was to visit the princely states and see for himself the traditional modes of life, the social and cultural milieu and the glamour and grandeur of the courts of native rulers. The title of his prolific travelogue, India And Its Native Princes indicates the chief object of the author. A voluminous book of over 500 pages, it contains 300 excellent illustrations which embellish the descriptive text.
Rousselet’s description of his visit to Bhopal has many interesting facts. He saw the Moti Masjid, which was under construction at that time and wrote “The Moti Masjid would be considered a grand monument for any period and in any country”. He was also suitably impressed by the majestic bearing of the Begum Secunder, the only woman ruler of a native state, at that time. The most surprising part is he describes to have witnessed a dance by cathacks, the male dancers who were fine tall young men attired in a very rich costume and performed the very same dances as the girls with great agility and much grace.
He concludes in his book that it was natural for the Begum to have a masculine dancers as other Rajas to have a feminine dancers (nautch, as per Rousselet). Another dance, which he found infinitely more graceful and interesting and is harder to visualize – was the egg-dance. The dancing girl carried on her head a wicker wheel round which threads were attached, provided at their extremities with a slip knot, keep open by means of a glass bead. The dancer began whirling round to the rhythm of music and at each turn placed an egg in a loop until the eggs formed a horizontal halo. She repeated the process and without breaking them withdrew each one of them as she continued dancing.
(Picture courtesy: The Tribune)