Saturday, 5 October 2013

Choultries and where to stay of a night?

A Choultry at Visakhapatnam

Recently Julian Craig raised a couple of interesting points in response to an earlier blog post that I had written about the Panwell Inn.

Where did European travellers stay?

And did former EIC soldiers run inns?

It is actually proving hard to find examples of European's running inns or hotels until the 1840's. It appears as if most travellers out side of the largest cities were using the existing system of Choultries.

While reading Robert Grenville Wallace 1823 book, Fifteen Years in India I came across the following very interesting description of Choultries in the period around 1809 to 1816.

  "One effect of the institution of casts is, that no stranger can be received into the house of a Hindoo as a guest or lodger; but a remedy for this is every where to be found by travellers who make regular stages, for in every village there is a building erected at the public charge for the accommodation of wayfaring-men, and a person appointed to provide them with fire, water, and all that the place produces, at regulated prices. In some cities these buildings are on a very large scale, and numerous; but in every town one will be found more or less convenient,according to the wealth of the place. They are called in the Carnatic Choultries and in most other places dhursumsollahs; and are superintended by the cutwal, whose peon is in general remarkably attentive to strangers,particularly to Europeans, who often receive poultry, milk, and butter from the magistrate as a present. The Hindoos really appear to be a tender-hearted people; but their institutions have produced customs and ceremonies at which humanity revolts with horror. To eat, drink, or associate with a stranger, would subject a man of cast to be alienated and forsaken. A military man guilty of cowardice, or a lady who had prostituted her honour in this country, would not meet with a more unfavourable reception from society than a Hindoo whose pity prompted him to help a dying traveller into his house from the road-side,when he saw the vultures and jackals watching the exit of life. The Hindoo women are very charitable, and never refuse to give a thirsty stranger water ;but he must drink it at the door out of his hands, into which they will pour it from a vessel, or stand over him stooping, and let it fall into his mouth; for were he to touch the pot, it would never after be used, but broken, as we destroy what has been impregnated with some filthy or noxious thing. I once by accident trod on a mat where there was an earthen dish full of rice prepared by a woman for her family-dinner. Upon which she burst into loud exclamations of sorrow, broke the chattee,threw away the rice, and tore the mat to pieces. I was very sorry for the pain I had unconsciously occasioned;but upon giving a rupee to a pretty little child which she took up in her arms and bathed with tears, she dried her eyes, looked highly pleased, and made me a salam to the very ground, saying in the sweetest tone of voice imaginable, " Bhote, bhote salam, atcha sahib, — Many, many thanks, good sir." [2]

As Robert wrote

"in every town one will be found more or less convenient, according to the wealth of the place."

they must have varied widely from the relatively modest one at Visakhapatnam shown above to very much grander ones, like the one in the south of India painted in about 1770 by Francis Swain Ward.

Choultries were not just a feature of towns and villages, but were spread along the routes most frequently used by traders. The distances quoted in the route description below between Choultries are interesting as they correspond to the 6 to 7 1/2 miles that pack bullocks were expected to be able to march each day.

This Pass is as remarkable for its length as from the singularity of the road. It commences near Punacatmulla, a hill about two miles west from Caverypooram, and ends about three miles to the S. E. of Caudhully, the first respectable village above the ghat, in going from the eastward; being altogether a distance of near twenty-three miles. For the accommodation of travellers, the distance from Caudhully to Caverypooram is divided by choultries into four stages. The first is from Caverypoorum to Chinnicavil choultry,about seven miles, the road generally good excepting near the choultry. The second stage is from Chinnicavil choultry to Nundacavil choultry, a distance of seven miles more, and the road crosses the river no less than six times in this space. This with the addition of some rocky places, must render the road extremely bad, and at some seasons of the year entirely impassable. The third stage is from Nundacavil choultry to Mootapelly's choultry,'which is near seven and a half miles. For the first three or four miles, the road follows the bed of the river in a great measure, and crosses it three times, after which it quits the torrent, takes a N. westerly direction, and becomes very steep.,[3]

The locations and distances between Choultry's were set out in tables in handbooks like Benjamin Seeley's "The road book of India; or, East Indian traveller's guide through the ..." published in 1825.

When the English first arrived in India they frequently lived in Choultries until they became established enough to set up in buildings of their own. These Choultries had existed for many centuries before the English arrived in India and were used by travellers of all sorts. They seem frequently to have been used as courts to settle trade disputes much like the Medieval Pied Poudre Courts in market towns and at trade fairs in France and Britain. In the 1640's in Madras a Choultry Court was set up, and the first English magistrate was appointed in 1648. The earliest officials were generally Indian's and these included Kanappa, Virranna and Timanna.

Choultry Rules [4]

It is clear that there were rules laid down in some Choultries that were run by temples, but how far these were observed by European travellers is hard to tell.

Choultry were generally positioned on the outer boundaries of settlements. There were often several Choultrys at the larger settlements with one at each of the gates into these towns. It was one such Choultry that won my great great great great grandfather his first promotion from Sergeant to Ensign becoming an officer that would set him on the route to eventually commanding Fort St David. Edward Harrison, an East Indiaman Captain with considerable influence at home was appointed Governor of Madras in 1712 This upset Richard Rawdon, a long serving official at Madras who had expected the post to become his, and who was moved to Fort St David where tried to breakaway from the East India Company. John De Morgan was part of a force sent under Edward Davenport from Madras to attempt to recapture Cuddalore. They captured a choultry located at the bound fence of the settement, and John De Morgan was tasked with holding it as a firm base as Davenport and the main force moved into the town. Raworth sent his men to attack the Choultry.

"Saturday 17th Between one and two this morning Ensigns Handle & Ackman were sent with forty good men to endeavour to surprize Cundapau Choultry and Horsetail point, about four the deputy Governour was advis’d they had gott possession of the former, w’ch they found deserted, they put a guard into it, and immediately advanced towards Horsetail point, where they found only one Gunner, who upon their entering was going to fire an allarum Gun, w’ch. Ensign Handlee prevented by threatening him if he did not instantly lay down his match he was a Deadman. By five this morning the whole body march’d for the bounds where soon after they arriv’d, and advanc’d to Cundapau Choultry where we drew up our men, Deputy Governor order’d Serjeant John D’Morgan with twenty men to keep possession of that Post, and Sergeant John Cordall with Andrew Middleton and twenty men to Horsetail Point,immediately after we passed ye River when was sent a Peon to Ensign Hobbs to summon him to his obedience to the Right Hon’ble: Company, and for what was pass’d shou’d be fogott; he return’d answer that Mr. Raworth was his Governour & he knew no other, so cou’d not quitt his post without his order after we were all over the river, we march’d towards the Company’s Garden always taking care to be undercover from the Forts Gunns, when haulted within a hundred & fifty yards of the Garden Gate, fronting before which they had thrown five or six thousand crows feet to prevent our advancing on them, the Deputy Governour sent Mr. Burton to summon the officers and soldiers to return to their obedience to the Right Hon’ble: Company, who all peremtorily refus’d except Sergeant Fox that came to us upon being summons and submitted himself to the order of the Deputy Governour, telling him that Mr. Raworth had kept ye men in a Continuall heat of Liquor, which he believ’d was the occasion of their being obdurate,& during this parly a single Horseman from the Fort who we perceiv’d came to view us, and immediately return’d when Mr. Raworth was so kind to salute us with an eighteen pounder,which fled just over our heads, and litt between us and ye Garden, this was enough to provoke men of the best Tempers to have reveng’d themselves, when it lay in our power to have Cutt off every man that was lodg’d in the Gardens but to shew Mr. Raworth and the rest of his rebellious Crew, we delighted not in blood, we march’d to secure Cuddalore, between which and Trepopalore he fir’d a second shott at us, w’ch: did no mischief, and was was soon after taken up and brought to the Deputy Governour, at Ten we enter’d Cuddalore by the Braminy Gate,which finding shutt Mr. Hugonin jump’d over the Pallasadoes, and open’d the Gate by Cutting the barr in two, we took possession of the point (finding no body upon it) with a Barrell and a Jarr of Powder; the Forces were drawn up when the Officers were order’d to draw out their men and take possession of severall Guards, after this the Deputy Governour went to Mr. Farmers house which he makes his residence for himself and all the Gentlemen.[5]

I was not entirely surprised to find as I researched this report, that many of the old Chouldries are disappearing from the scene in India, much like our public houses. The following photo shows a collapsed 100-year-old Ram Gopal Choultry in Vijayawada on Wednesday 13th July 2013.

Choultry collapses in Vijayawada [6]

All of the books mentioned in this post are freely available through Google Books, and I express my great appreciation of their having copied so many books onto their system, which I and many others would not have otherwise had the opportunity to read.

If you live near a Choultry and have an opportunity to photograph it and to tell me about it I would be very pleased to hear from you. My contact email is 

[1] From an excellent blog by Robert Schick at

[2] Fifteen Years in India; Or, Sketches of a Soldier's Life: Being an Attempt ...By Robert Grenville Wallace, published in 1823 page 201, Robert was promoted Lieutenant in the 65th Regiment of Foot on the 4th May 1816, and later served in the 84th Foot. He was placed on half pay on the 7th of December 1820. He tried his hand at novel writing, and was published by Longman. He became a solicitor like his father in Newry. His death was announced as follows: - "DEATHS. August 12, In Newry, aged 64 years, Robert Grenville Wallace Esq, solicitor, formerly Lieutenant in the 64th regiment. Freeman's Journal Monday 18 August 1851

[3] Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society ..., Volume 4 By Bombay Geographical Society published 1840, page 8.


[5]IOR G/18/2/PT3 “Fort St David, 2. Pt 3


1 comment:

Chandhrasekar Saravanan said...

My understanding is the term Choultries should have been derived from the Tamil word "CHATRAM" or "Chatiram". As Robert mentions in his article Choutries or Chatrams are found in Carnatic (South India) and dharmasalas in Northern parts of India

Rich Hindu's as part of the tradition donate part of their wealth to Chatram's for others to use. Usually the Chatrams are found close to the Temples and every village or town had a temple. It is for the far off visitiors to come and stay

I highly doubt if they permitted everyone to stay in choultries. usually every caste will have their own choultries

Also choultries are used for conducting Marriages and other functions when you have to invite a large number of family members and Friends

The above comments are just based on what I experienced and I dont have anything to prove it.

Thanks for this wonderful blog.

Chandhrasekar Saravanan