J.J. Cotton on the Dutch culte des morts in India

They are noteworthy and remarkable, the observations on the Dutch funeral cultus in India that  J.J. Cotton  writes in the introduction of his List of Inscriptions (p vii)

‘Of all the European powers that held sway in India, none more genuinely felt and observed the culte des morts than the Dutch. In his famous essay on the Tombs of Westminster Abbey (Spectator. No 26) Addison has remarked on this characteristic: and Pepys Diary contains a similar content. Their regal mausoleums at Surat long ago attracted the attention of travellers like Dr. John Fryer (1682) and Ovington (!689); the latter of whom mentions a custom maintained by Dutchmen in his day of celebrating convivial feasts over the tomb of a toper of facetious memory where, “remembering their departed companion, they sometimes forgot themselves.”

Of their disused cemeteries in South India, the Pulicat graveyard, which has a well-preserved lychgate of 1656 flanked by tow standing stone skeletons, is the most remarkable. Over one of its oldest graves may be seen inscribed the letters V.O.C. (Vereenigde Oostindiache Compagnie), the familiar monogram of the Netherlands United East India Company. On another slab is a pictorial representation of the Fort of Castel Gelria, which Mr. Rea has reproduced in his volume of facsimiles.


The Dutch stones here and elsewhere elaborately carved by metselaars or masons, who graduated in their profession before coming out to India and handed down much of their skill to Hindoo craftsmen. The only European relic at Cape Comorin is an imposing granite block to the perpetual honour of a Dutch factor. At Porto Novo the bas -relief over the grave of Matthys Pfeiffer’s wife gives a perfect picture of an eighteenth century piper playing on a recorder and dressed in a long-flapped coat with old fashioned stockings and shoes and armed with a rapier.


Further north at Bunder is the figure of a bygone mynheer wearing a three-cornered hat of the kind Gulliver is usually represented, and closely resembling the famous Eurpean head in one of the upper niches in Tanjore temple. In Wolfendahl’s Church at Colombo are the state tombs of diseased Governors of that island, ornamented with heraldic emblems of the highest degree of excellence. Pieces of quaintly sounding rhyme are often added; and the structures themselves are more than emblematic of the words f the sculptors that they will endure to the “Laatste opstaanding.”