Plus while Hindu Nationalists see it as a Hindu rebellion, Pakistan furthermore traces its Nationalist history back to the (by Pakistan’s historiography considered a Muslim) 1857 Sepoy Mutiny.
This said, Muslim rule had been first introduced to S.Asia, when Arab forces seized control of the Sind region of the southern Indus plain (now in Pakistan) in 711. Around the same time, the greatest empires of ancient India were based in the Gangetic plain which, along with the Indus plain, boasted the earliest urban centers of the subcontinent.
In south India, in contrast, settled agriculture was confined to relatively small pockets, although it had a longer history there than in western or eastern India. Because of its more difficult terrain, dispersed agrarian zones, and localized social circles, the peninsula's kingdoms were typically smaller than those of the Gangetic north prior to 1000 CE. The only states that had ever extended their power across the Vindhyas were those based in the north. Eastern and western Indian states were even later to develop than those in the south and were similarly restricted in size, for the most part.
Just as in Europe, regionalization occurred at the expense of a cosmopolitan language and culture, in South Asia's case, Sanskrit, and was a sign of the growing relevance of more localized concerns and identities among the elite populations. These regional cultures also interacted with or were affected by aspects of the cosmopolitan culture of Persia and the Middle East in differing ways in the centuries after 1200.
For much of India's ancient history, the earlier development, greater wealth -- and larger population of the Gangetic north gave it political and cultural dominance. This explains why it was the Sanskrit language once spoken in the north that eventually developed into the pan-Indic literary medium. For a period of approximately a thousand years beginning in 300 CE, the prestige of classical Sanskrit was so great that it eclipsed all other languages and literatures in the area.
And although the religious beliefs and practices of India were never systematized by a central institution or spiritual authority, the circulation of Sanskrit and Brahmins throughout the subcontinent thus, did produce some semblance of a unified religious culture at the elite level by 1000 CE.
The largest temple in eleventh-century India was located in Tanjavur, the capital of the mighty Chola dynasty of the far south. Consecrated in 1010, the temple housed a form of Shiva named Rajarajeshvara after the Chola ruler Rajaraja, who was its main patron. While the far south of India was thriving under the Chola dynasty, political power in the northern half of the subcontinent continued to devolve to an increasing number of small states.
At the same time that King Rajaraja I of the Chola dynasty was making plans to build his enormous temple at Tanjavur, another king had emerged in far-off Afghanistan. Known to posterity simply as Mahmud of Ghazni (r. 998-1030) after the Afghan city that was his capital, he is usually regarded as the first Muslim king to have a major impact of what under British rule was called the Indian subcontinent.
Even Indo-Muslim chronicles of a later time ignore the Arabs of Sind and begin their narrative of Muslim rule in India with Mahmud of Ghazni. Mahmud lived about 350 years after the inception of Islam, at a time when many in the Islamic world feared that their centuries of political supremacy might be at an end. In the years immediately after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632), Muslims had given their allegiance to a single caliph or head of state. Under the Umayyad dynasty of caliphs (661-750) based in Damascus and then the Abbasids of Baghdad, much of the Islamic world had been politically unified, at least in theory. This unity had fragmented by the tenth century, with three different rulers one in Umayyad Spain, another in Abbasid Baghdad, and yet another in Fatimid Cairo - each claiming to be the sole caliph. While all Muslims would never again be brought together in one state, the tenth-century fear that Muslim dominance was on an irreversible decline proved to be wrong. Instead, the influx of a new group of people, the Turks, would politically reinvigorate much territory ruled under the banner of Islam. From the ninth century onward, Muslim rulers had increasingly relied on personal troops composed of enslaved Turks from the Central Asian steppes. These military slaves or mamluks were considered more loyal than other soldiers because they were taken captive at a young age and owed loyalty only to their master. Many mamluks went on to become prominent generals and leaders in the Islamic world in this era; at the same time, various tribes of Turks were gradually migrating into Muslim lands and becoming Islamicized. Due to their nomadic background, the Turkic peoples were skilled at cavalry warfare.
Mahmud of Ghazni's ascendance occurred in this context of rising Turkic military and political power. His grandfather, Alptigin, was a Turk who began as a military slave and ended his career as governor of Ghazni, a city in the center of what is now Afghanistan. Sebuktigin, Mahmud's father, was also a slave at one time, before he married Alptigin's daughter and succeeded to Alptigin's position as governor. He eventually declared his independence and annexed much of modern Afghanistan, becoming the first in the Ghaznavid line of Turkic rulers. After Mahmud, the Ghaznavids lost their base in Afghanistan to the Seljuq Turks, a group of nomadic tribes who went on to conquer a huge swath of territory encompassing modern Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and much of Central Asia. The Ghaznavids and Seljuqs were conscious of their status as newcomers to Islam and so never sought symbolic leadership over the entire Islamic world. Instead of claiming the ultimate authority as caliphs, Mahmud and other Turkic rulers were called sultans, a title for Muslim kings that spread widely in later centuries. After several centuries during which the Islamic frontiers had hardly advanced, the Turkic sultans of the eleventh century initiated major expansions of the Islamic realm, the Ghaznavids toward the east and the Seljuqs toward the west.
Mahmud of Ghazni started making frequent campaigns into the Indian subcontinent in 1001. Keen on building up his prestige within the international Muslim community, Mahmud portrayed his entry into the subcontinent as an instance of jihad, in this case a war against infidels. Making this claim also allowed him to legitimately take booty, which Mahmud did in great quantities. Mahmud commenced by taking territory around the Indus river in what is today Pakistan and eventually made his way large majority of Muslims are Sunni, the sense of an ummah was almost readymade. Also significant in creating unity among Muslims was the existence of a common language, Arabic, for religious purposes, as well as common cultural practices and constructs.
Very little intact architecture from the Ghaznavid period survives, but we do have existing examples from their Seljuq successors that are quite similar to the Ghaznavid style. The most notable example of a Seljuq monument is the Great Mosque of Isfahan in Iran.
Although Mahmud could claim to belong to a worldwide Muslim community, the Ghaznavid Turks had adopted an ideology and style of kingship that originated in just one part of the Islamic world, its eastern segment. This mode of kingship drew heavily on the pre-Islamic traditions of Persia and cast the king as an all powerful autocrat deemed superior to other mortals. The elevated position of a ruler in later PersoIslamic society was a far cry from the egalitarian ethos of the early days of Islam, when the ruler was simply an esteemed man who was elected from a body of equals just as an Arab chief had been chosen from the elders of the tribe. Rulers such as Mahmud of Ghazni were considered shadows of god on earth and, as such, merited great respect and awe.
The fact that Mahmud of Ghazni used Persian as a court language also differentiated him and other contemporary rulers in Iran and Central Asia from their counterparts in Spain, Egypt, and Baghdad who spoke Arabic.
These intertwined traditions of Turkic military prowess, Islamic religion, and Persian culture were introduced into the Indian subcontinent by Mahmud of Ghazni and his successors. Mahmud's son had to yield most of the Ghaznavid realm to the much larger and more powerful Se1juq Turks, but the dynasty managed to retain a small stronghold around Lahore, today in Pakistan. There the Ghaznavids survived for almost two hundred years, until they were dislodged by another upstart dynasty from Afghanistan, the Ghurids, who further spread Perso-Islamic culture in South Asia. Although Arab sailors and merchants, as well as the early Muslim Arabs who conquered Sind, were no strangers to South Asia, the Muslims who became politically dominant in the subcontinent would typically be Turco-Mongol in ethnic background, horse-riding warriors in occupation, and Persian in cultural heritage.
In the year 1000 thus, two kings at the extremities of the greater South Asian world region had been poised for expansion. There was Rajaraja Chola of Tanjavur, on the one hand, who envisioned an extension of power into Southeast Asia that would be realized by his son Rajendra. And at the same time, Mahmud of Ghazni, situated in the borderland between the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia, was setting his sights on the area of northwestern India.
By 1200, however, the Chola dynasty had withered away along with Indian influence in Southeast Asia, whereas a second wave of Turkic warriors following in Mahmud of Ghazni's footsteps was overrunning much of north India. The Cholas flourished toward the end of one long phase, a period of roughly a thousand years when Indian culture had spread far beyond the confines of the modern region not only into Southeast Asia but also into central and eastern Asia. Mahmud of Ghazni, on the other hand, stood at the inception of a second phase, during which Islamic religion and culture were transmitted as far east as the southern Philippine islands. What happened subsequently in India was not so much a clash of civilizations as a revitalization of its politics and an enrichment of its already diverse culture. That is the story to which we now turn our attention.
The origins of the Delhi Sultanate can be traced to the career of the, Muhammad Ghuri, so-called after the mountainous region in Afghanistan where his family was based. His full name was Shihab al-Din Muhammad bin Sam, but he is also known in the historical sources as Muizz alDin. Muhammad Ghuri was based in Ghazni, the former capital of the renowned Mahmud, and from there he turned his attention eastward toward India beginning in 1175. Like Mahmud, Muhammad Ghuri spent years campaigning in the Indian subcontinent and won victory after victory. Unlike Mahmud, however, Muhammad's goal was to annex territory and not merely to carry out profitable raids. Muhammad's first conquest in South Asia was the region of Punjab, held by the Muslim descendants of Mahmud of Ghazni. For two decades from 1186, the main city in the Punjab, Lahore (now Pakistan), served as the primary Ghurid base in South Asia for a series of successful attacks on north India proper.
The sophisticated military system of their native Afghanistan was the principal reason for the success of the Ghurid armies in India. The ease of the Ghurid conquest has puzzled historians in the past, given the far greater agrarian wealth and population of the conquered Indian kingdoms that should have provided them with ample resources for military defense. Hence, early twentieth-century scholars often pointed to the lack of unity among Indians as the chief explanation for their defeat. Since the concept of India as a nation was still centuries away, Prithviraj Chauhan and Jayachandra Gahadavala - Muhammad Ghuri's opponents - had no incentive to forge a united front and indeed are depicted as mortal enemies in a later ballad that champions Prithviraj. Similarly, there was no sense of a common religious identity among Indian warriors at the time, for the notion of a unified Hinduism is a modern one.
Muhammad Ghuri's sudden death in 1206 precipitated an intense contest for power among the leading Turkic military slaves upon whom Muhammad had so heavily relied. In that year Qutb al-Din Aibak, a slave of Turkic origin, seized control of the armies from Afghanistan that were occupying numerous forts in the heartland of north India. Qutb al-Din Aibak's act was but the first in a series of struggles for dominance among the leading members of the Turkic forces in India. This event easily could have been relegated to the status of a footnote in history had the occupying Turkic armies eventually retreated back to their area of origin, as had Mahmud of Ghazni two hundred years earlier, or had the fledgling Islamic state torn itself apart in internal conflict. Instead, Qutb al-Din's political successors were able to entrench themselves in India for centuries thereafter and, in doing so, ushered in momentous changes not only in the political makeup of the subcontinent but also in its culture. The importance of the date 1206, when the first of a series of dynasties collectively known as the Delhi Sultanate was founded, is thus clear.
A New Delhi Sultanate
Enter a few hundred years later, Zahiruddin Muhammad also known as Babur, who was twelve years old when he ascended the throne of the tiny Mughal principality of Fergana in faraway Central Asia. And although soon he soon lost Fergana and had to wonder about in the mountains of Central Asia, a king without a kingdom, with the blood of Timur (on the paternal side) and Chingiz Khan (on the maternal side) apparently he had great dreams. When fortune favored him eventually with the throne of Kabul, his eyes turned eastwards, where, beyond the mountains, lay the vast, fertile Indo-Gangetic Plain, renowned for its wealth, which was then ruled by the Afghan dynasty of Lodis.
In November 1525, Zahiruddin Muhammad descended from the snow-capped mountains, crossed the Indus, and swept into Hindustan. This was a perilous enterprise, for he had only a small army of just twelve thousand men, while opposing him was the mammoth Lodi army of some hundred thousand with a formidable contingent of a thousand elephants. But in a five-hour battle fought at Panipat, about eighty kilometres north of Delhi, he entirely routed the enemy. Babur, aged forty-three, was at last an emperor.
Four years later Babur died and was succeed by his son Humayun. An easy-going bon vivant, Humayun was devoted more to the pleasures of life than to the pursuit of power and did not have the grit and ruthlessness needed to prevail in the turbulent political environment of India. The Mughal's adversaries, though routed in several battles by Babur, were not destroyed and they hovered on the periphery of the empire, regrouping, watching, waiting. In 1540 the resurgent Afghans struck, seized the imperial throne, and drove Humayun out of India.
For three years Humayun wandered about in the western borderland of India with a small band of followers, hoping for a turn of fortune. That did not happen. So he finally crossed the Indus and, scurrying through the domains of his hostile brothers in Afghanistan, took refuge with the shah of Persia. The shah welcomed Humayun as an honoured royal guest and Humayun basked in the opulent Persian hospitality for a year, 'feasting and carousing', as his personal attendant Jauhar described it. But he had to vindicate his honour, win back his empire. So he set out again, though rather reluctantly. Humayun was now accompanied by a contingent of troops provided by the shah, with whose help he seized Afghanistan from his brothers and, after consolidating his power there over several years, finally headed for India to recover his lost empire.
Humayun had with him at this time only a tiny army of around five thousand. That was enough, though. Sher Shah, Humayun's great Afghan adversary, had died a few years earlier and North India was in political disarray. In July 1555, Humayun stormed back into Delhi, fifteen years after he had been driven out of it by Sher Shah. But he died soon afterwards in a tragic accident, tumbling down the stairs of his astronomical observatory where, obsessed with astrology, he had gone to study what the stars boded.
AT MIDDAY ON Friday, 14 February 1556, a time and date that was considered astrologically auspicious, in the obscure little town of Kalanaur on the Ravi river in Punjab, an illiterate and umuly youth of fourteen, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, was enthroned as Mughal emperor on a hastily built, rough masomy platform. Thus began, in a lowly and bleak setting, the reign of the greatest ruler of India after Asoka, the celebrated Buddhist emperor of the third century BCE.
The grand destiny of Akbar was not evident at the time of his accession. Quite the contrary: the future looked very grim for the nascent empire and its boy-king, for the Mughals had as yet only a tenuous toehold in India, and in Akbar there was no sign at all of any greatness. But the scene changed entirely over the next couple of decades. Not only did Akbar build an extensive and powerful empire, but he also, more importantly, inaugurated the second golden age of India after the decline of its classical civilization a thousand years earlier. He and his immediate successors so decisively stamped their personalities on India that the Mughal Empire became, in the public perception, synonymous with India. And it remained so for quite a long time, even after the empire had entirely disappeared and the emperor had become a humble pensioner of the British.
Akbar, however innitially, was not yet ready to assume responsibility, and for the time being he left governance entirely to his guardian, Biram Khan, a suave Persian noble of exceptional ability. For four years Biram Khan ruled as de facto emperor while Akbar remained 'behind the veil'. But despite his seeming disinterest in government, Akbar was all the while observing, learning, quietly preparing himself for the role that destiny had assigned to him.
By 1560 he was ready. That year Akbar dismissed Biram Khan from his service and shortly thereafter, in what seemed like a ravenous earth-hunger, launched a rapid series of conquests which enlarged the Mughal kingdom in India into a vast sub continental empire. Entirely fearless and blessed with phenomenal physical prowess and stamina, he invariably led his army from the front, impetuously plunging in where the fight was fiercest.
Exuberant physicality characterized Akbar in his youth. As he grew older, however, his life became more and more austere and he revealed himself to be a man of wide cultural interests and insatiable intellectual curiosity. Though as a child he had stubbornly refused to learn to read and write, despite the persistent efforts of his erudite father, and would remain formally illiterate all his life, he now had his officers read regularly to him from the books in the vast royal library, and in time he became quite a savant.
Akbar was eclectic in his tastes, liberal in his outlook and entirely open minded, without any prejudice as to race, religion or culture. In 1564, when he was twenty-two, he took the bold step of abolishing jizya, the poll tax that Muslim states mandatorily imposed on non-Muslims, thus ending a major discrimination against Hindus in his empire. Later, he invited to his court leaders of diverse religions - Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains and Parsees - and often held night-long discussions with them. There was also a small group of Jesuit missionaries at his court and he paid careful attention to their expositions as well, once even attending service in their chapel.
But what Akbar sought was knowledge, not faith. 'He is a man who makes justice the guide of the path of inquiry, and takes from every sect what is consonant with reason,' he held. And it was the practical aspect of knowledge that interested Akbar. 'Although knowledge in itself is regarded as the summit of perfection, yet unless displayed in action, it bears not the impress of worth,' he contended.
In 1582, when he was forty, Akbar took the revolutionary step, most unusual for a monarch, of founding a syncretic religious fraternity of his own, called Din Hahi (Divine Faith). 'For an empire ruled by one head, it is a bad thing to have its people divided among themselves and at variance with one another,' Akbar said, explaining his reason for founding the fraternity. 'We ought, therefore, to bring them all into one, but in such fashion that they should be both one and all; with the great advantage of not losing what is good in anyone religion while gaining whatever is better in another. In this way, honor would be rendered to God, peace would be given to the people, and security to the empire.'
Din Hahi was more an elite socio-political brotherhood than a religious sect in the conventional sense. Its orientation was towards rationalism rather than faith. It had no pantheon, no theology, no transcendental concerns. Its sole objective was to guide its followers to lead sensible, responsible lives as human beings and citizens. Religious tolerance was its bedrock. 'No one,' Akbar declared, 'should be interfered with on account of his religion. Anyone should be allowed to go over to any religion he pleased.'
Din Hahi did not survive Akbar. It could not: like its creator, it was way ahead of its time. When Akbar died, the medieval culture of the age entombed Din Hahi as well. But on the whole Akbar had had a singularly fortunate career, and nearly everything in his life worked out perfectly for him - everything, except for his own sons. Growing up in the awesome shadow of the great emperor, the personalities of the princes became stunted and warped. Two of them drank themselves to death in their youth, and his only surviving son, Jahangir, also became an alcoholic and an opium addict.
Akbar in his last years was hardly the emperor, or the man, that the world had known. Fortune no longer waited on his pleasure. Aggravations and misfortunes broke his once indomitable spirit. His health collapsed and in October 1605, at the age of sixty-three, he died after a reign of forty-nine years.
Apparently Akbar's last act on his deathbed was to invest Jahangir, aged thirty-two, with the regalia. Jahangir had broken out in rebellion towards the close of Akbar's reign, but no one held that against him. The fight of son against father, and of brother against brother, for the throne was the norm among the Mughals: Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb all fought fratricidal wars, and most of the emperors had to face rebellions by their sons as well. Such clashes were a rite of passage for Mughal princes, which enabled the fittest of them to survive and rule.
In character and temperament Jahangir was like his grandfather Humayun, a debonair, gregarious, fun-loving epicure. And just as Humayun had had a serious interest in astronomy and astrology, Jahangir took a serious interest in nature studies and was a connoisseur of art. He also prided himself on being a poet and he wrote his own candid memoirs. He was very much his father's son, too, being open-minded and liberal in his cultural and religious attitudes. Unlike Akbar, however, he had no deep interest in religion and was generally scornful of all faiths. 'Jhe-hangier- Shah ... is an atheist,' stated Sir Thomas Roe, the first British royal ambassador to India.
According to Sir Thomas Roe, Jahangir once told the Jesuits in his court: 'If yee cast the Crucifix and Picture of Christ into fire before me, if it burne not, I will become a Christian.' In comparison with Akbar, Jahangir pales to insignificance - though only in comparison with Akbar. He was a man of diverse talents and, despite a certain playfulness, quite conscientious in the discharge of his royal duties. But he was a physical wreck during most of his reign due to his long addiction to wine and opium, and his life would have probably ended in disgrace but for his good fortune in having by his side the imperiously beautiful and enormously talented Nur Jahan, his chief queen. As the reins of power began to slip from his enfeebled hands, she stood beside him and gave him strength. She, noted the Mughal courtier Inayat Khan, 'gradually acquired such unbounded influence on His Majesty's mind that she seized the reins of government and took on herself the supreme civil and financial administration of the realm, ruling with absolute authority till the conclusion of the reign'.
There were two major rebellions towards the close of Jahangir's reign, by the prince Shah Jahan and by the royal commander Mahabat Khan, but both were effectively and decisively suppressed under the leadership of Nur Jahan. And when Jahangir died after a reign of twenty-two years, the great empress had the grace and wisdom to retire quietly from public life and spend the last eighteen years of her life in contented obscurity in the provincial town of Lahore.
Jahangir was succeeded by Shah Jahan, aged thirty-five, and with him the Mughal golden age reached its culmination. Shah Jahan was the quintessential Great Mughal, who by the splendour of his dress and ornaments, and his lordly bearing and conduct, personified the opulence and grandeur of the empire. In him the Mughal rumbustiousness was at last tamed under the influence of Persian courtly formalism. Though courteous and soft-spoken, his bearing in public was always stiffly dignified. 'I never saw so settled a countenance, nor any man keepe so constant a gravity, never smiling, or in face showing any respect or difference of men, but mingled with extreme pride and contempt of all,' observed Roe.
Shah Jahan, unlike his ancestors - particularly unlike his father and grandfather - was a rigidly orthodox Muslim, and with him began the attempt to convert the Mughal Empire into a theocratic Muslim state, in a deliberate reversal of the established Mughal policy. Though all his predecessors, except Akbar, had occasionally persecuted Hindus and demolished temples, they had done so in random and impulsive acts. Now it was state policy. Furthermore, while Akbar and Jahangir had allowed anyone to adopt any religion, Shah Jahan prohibited Muslims from changing their religion. He also directed that Hindus should dress differently from Muslims: while Muslims tied the tunic on the right-hand side, Hindus were required to tie it on the left.
A major influence on the formulation of Shah Jahan's policies was his queen, Mumtaz Mahal. She was a niece of Nur Jahan and, like her aunt, she played a crucial role in government, but discreetly, from behind the throne. Mumtaz, wrote the Mughal chronicler Aminai Qazvini, was the emperor's 'intimate companion, colleague, close confidante in distress and comfort, joy and grief'. Shah Jahan was totally devoted and faithful to her, and though he had other wives he begot children only by her. And she was marvelously fecund: she bore him fourteen children in the nineteen years they lived together, but died at the age of thirty-four while delivering her last child. Shah Jahan was devastated by the tragedy and it was to commemorate his love for her that he built the Taj Mahal, often considered to be the most beautiful building in the world.
Shah Jahan had a keen interest in music and dance - he used to sing at the private gatherings of his intimate nobles - but his main artistic interest was in architecture, which found expression in a number of magnificent buildings he erected. He took enormous pride in them, as reflected in the couplet he had inscribed on the hall of public audience in his Delhi palace: If there be a paradise on earth, It's this, it's this, it's this!
That, indeed, was how the contemporary world saw the Mughal court. Shah Jahan was the richest and most exalted monarch in the world in his time and he lived in the greatest possible magnificence. But his last years were pathetic. Trouble erupted in the summer of 1657 when Shah Jahan fell seriously ill. This sent shivers of anxiety through his four sons, stationed in the different provinces of the empire, for each knew that if the emperor died his own life would be in peril as the successor would liquidate him as a potential contender for the throne. The only way a prince could save his life was by securing the throne for himself. It was the throne or death for each of them.
Soon the princes were on the march with their armies, headed for the imperial capital. Once these moves had been initiated there was no turning back for them, even though Shah Jahan recovered and the immediate threat to their lives and fortunes passed. A prolonged and traumatic war of succession ensued, out of which the emperor's third son, Aurangzeb, emerged victorious, eliminating all his brothers and usurping the throne. And he, saturnine and remorseless, kept Shah Jahan confined in the Agra fort for eight years, till the end of his life.
Aurangzeb was an unlikely Mughal ruler. He did not have the dynamism, charisma and verve that characterized his ancestors, but was a dour, joyless drudge. This, however, was a persona that he deliberately cultivated. He had in his early youth loved music, enjoyed hunting, and was susceptible to feminine charms, but he burnt out all those vulnerabilities with his searing, inexorable will SQ as to focus his whole being on the business of winning the throne and ruling. Utterly implacable and cold-blooded in his pursuit of power, his life was a triumph of mind over body and of will over nature.
Aurangzeb believed that he had a divine dispensation to rule, not for his own enjoyment of power but for the restoration of the true kingdom of Islam in India. Characteristically, when his sister Jahanara pleaded with him to spare the life of his brother Dara, he said: 'Dara is an infidel and a friend of Hindus. He must be extirpated for the sake of the true faith and the peace of the realm.' He had no feeling for his father either; in all the years he kept him confined in the Agra fort he never once visited him, not even during his final illness, and did not attend his funeral. He had no weakness of sentiment or love.
Yet he was a man of great humility, soft-spoken, mild-mannered and of equable temper. He was particularly kindly in his treatment of the lowly. Once, when a eunuch stumbled against him and knocked him down, and himself collapsed in fright, Aurangzeb spoke to him kindly: 'Wherefore fearest thou a created being, one like thyself ... Rise and be not afraid.' He led an ascetic life, was very simple in dress, wore hardly any jewels, and met his personal expenses by making caps. Contemporary Muslims regarded him as a saint.
Under Aurangzeb the very nature of the Mughal Empire changed. Shah Jahan had tentatively begun the conversion of the secular empire into a theocratic Muslim state; this process was now completed by Aurangzeb. He reimposed jizya, 115 years after Akbar had abolished it, and imposed various disabilities on non-Muslims as required by orthodox Islamic tradition. However, in all this he acted strictly within the law, doing what was permitted and obligatory for a Muslim ruler but nothing beyond that, and he did on occasion pull up his officers who in their theocratic fervour unlawfully persecuted Hindus.
One phase of Aurangzeb's life ended in 1681 when, after reigning from north India for twenty-three years, at the age of sixty-three he crossed into the peninsula to begin the final ascent to the summit of the Mughal Empire. He would spend the next twenty-six years there in ceaseless wars, conquering new territories, subduing rebels, capturing forts. At the end of this titanic effort a vast sweep of land from Kabul across virtually the entire Indian subcontinent lay under his sway. There were no more lands to conquer, no more
Efforts to take or armies to defeat. Aurangzeb had become master of the largest empire that India has ever known. Mughal imperial destiny had been fulfilled, it seemed. Yet, just when Aurangzeb appeared absolutely triumphant, everything was in fact utterly lost. At the moment of his supreme triumph, Aurangzeb found to his horror that the very ground on which he stood was crumbling.
The Marathas were his nemesis. Aurangzeb thought that he had pounded them into the earth; and indeed he had, but they rose again out of the soil everywhere to confound him. When the weary old emperor began his slow trek northwards to Delhi, his mission' accomplished', the Marathas hounded him, incessantly snapping at his feet. Meanwhile, seeing the emperor's helplessness, panic began to spread through the empire and the immense, multitiered Mughal administrative edifice began to crack and crumble. Rebels and bandits roamed the land freely and, as Aurangzeb's end neared, his sons, even his grandsons, squared off to fight for the succession.
Aurangzeb trudged on. But on the way, while camping at Ahmadnagar in central Maharashtra, he fell ill with a high fever. And on 3 March 1707, a Friday, in the early morning while he was saying his prayers, Aurangzeb, eighty-nine years old and emperor for forty-nine years, slid into death. This second, Muslim (in this case Mughal alias Mongol) conquest of India apparently did not involve any major changes in the racial, linguistic or religious make-up of the subcontinent. There were in fact very few Mughals in Mughal India. Babur had brought with him into India about 10,000 of his own people, but a number of them had returned to Kabul after the battle of Khanua, and even those who remained were later driven out by Sher Shah. The reconquest of India by Humayun involved even fewer Mughals, a mere 5000 cavalrymen. However, under Akbar and his immediate successors, when the Mughal empire became renowned as the largest, richest and most dynamic Muslim kingdom in the world-the land of opportunity for Muslims everywhere-there was a steady migration of Muslims from Central Asia and Persia into India. These migrants occupied the top echelons in the Mughal government, but their total number was at no time large, a drop in the vast ocean of Indian population. Even this dribble of migration virtually stopped during the reign of Aurangzeb, as the Mughal empire lost its vitality, and Muslim culture everywhere went into decline.
There was some population movement within India in Mughal times, as groups migrated to avoid famine or oppression or war, but these were insignificant compared to the previous, great shufflings of people that had taken place in early medieval India. By and large, the racial, religious and linguistic mix of India, and the geographical rooting of its peoples and their socio-cultural contours, had firmed up by the time the Mughals arrived.
What the people had congealed into, however, was not a nation, or even a family of nations. Though the Mughals had imposed on the subcontinent such political unity as had never before existed, and had given it a uniformity of administrative system, court culture, coinage and official language, there was no sense that the subjects of the empire were one people. Nor was there any concept of citizenship, either in the Mughal empire or in any other Indian state-it was land, not people, that made up the state, and frontiers, indefinite and ever shifting, were always porous. There was a Indian empire; there was no Indian nation.
The people of one part of the subcontinent hardly knew those of the other parts, and had little in common with them. They spoke different languages, worshipped different gods, had different social systems. Only in the thin top crust of society, among brahmins and the Persianized Muslim aristocracy, were there pan-Indian linkages. Even among them there was no real sense of belonging together.
Paradoxically, there was no regional cohesiveness either, not even among the Rajputs and the Marathas. Tribally fragmented, or divided into castes and sects, even the people who spoke the same language, lived in the same area and belonged to the same broad religious group, developed no sense of shared history or common identity. The only sharp distinctions were those of caste and tribe. All other identities were amorphous, all other barriers permeable. This absence of sharp we/ they distinctions between the regional peoples of India, or between Indians and foreigners, in part accounts for the docile acceptance of conquerors by Indians. Foreign rule was seldom perceived as foreign rule.
Even the name India is not Indian. The word is derived from the Persian mispronunciation of Sindhu (Indus River) as Hindu, which the Greeks turned into Indus, and used the term India to refer to the region around and beyond the Indus. It was only in the sixteenth century, at the beginning of the Mughal rule, that the term India was for the first time used in the sub continental sense, initially by the Spaniards or the Portuguese. Its usage was confined to Europeans. Indians themselves never used the term India in pre-modern times to describe their country, nor did the Mughals. The alternate term, found in Mughal chronicles, was Hindustan, but this meant only the Indo-Gangetic plain; the Deccan was not part of it, nor the north-west or the north-east, nor Kashmir. The term Bharat is not mentioned in any Mughal work.
Babur recognized India as a distinct geological and bio-cultural entity-"It is quite a different world" he writes. "Its hills and rivers, its forests and plains, its animals and plants, its inhabitants and their languages, its winds and rains, are all of a different nature. You have no sooner passed the river Sind (Indus) than the country, the trees, the stones, the wandering tribes, the manners and customs of the people, are all entirely of Hindustan." But the distinctiveness of India that Babur saw existed only in the eyes of the outsider, and was no more meaningful than the designation of all Europeans as Feringhees by Indians, or of all fair-complexioned Muslims as Mughals by Europeans.
"They were called Moguls, that is, white of complexion . . . the natives being all brown or olive colour," says Tavernier. According to Bernier, "to be considered a Mogol, it is enough if a foreigner have white face and profess Mahometanism." Some Europeans even thought that the term Mughal meant simply a circumcised man; Terry thus believed that the Great Mughal meant "the Chiefe of the Circumcision". Bernier also wrote: Indians are 'tenderhearted towards animals of every description, man only excepted.' Indians, says Ovington, are 'profligate of their own lives', though caring towards animals.
In fact in the deep south, except in Kerala, there were very few Muslims in Mughal times. Mughal chronicler Muhammad Sharif Hanafi, a contemporary of Shah Jahan, writes about Madura: 'There is not a single Musulman there. Occasionally a Musulman may visit the country, deputed by Nizam Shah, Adil Shah or Qutb Shah, but the natives are all infidels.'
Furthermore, the term Mughal is an Arabic and Persian corruption of Mongol. The Mughals were Mongols. But they generally preferred to call themselves Chaghatai Tufks-Chaghatai, because their ancestral homeland was north of the river Amu Darya (Oxus), which was the domain of Chaghatai Khan, the second son of Chingiz Khan; Turks, because they had become Turks in language and culture due to their long residence in Turkish countries. In Indian history the term Mughal is specific to the dynasty founded by Babur, but is also applied loosely to their immigrant officers and men.
The Mughal cosmos revolved around the emperor. Everyone else was either his servant or his subject. Broadly speaking, his servants made up the leisure class, and his subjects the productive class. The leisure class was the ruling class, and had its own work (administrative, military or religious) but not many members of the class were economically productive, or even supportive of production-by and large they merely appropriated what others produced. This polarization was further accentuated by the fact that the productive class was overwhelmingly Hindu, while the leisure class was predominantly Muslim. Muslims as a community belonged to the ruling class, by community right; others, such as the Rajputs and other local chieftains, were merely admitted to the class as a matter of administrative, political or military expediency.
The ruling class was not a homogeneous class. Apart from racial, religious and social differences, there were great economic disparities among the members of the class, and the majority of them lived a life not very different from that of the common productive class. Within Muslim society there were, in addition to class divisions based on wealth and position, divisions based on race and profession, although Muslims did not have the social and ritual taboos that vacuum-sealed the Hindu castes. Different Muslim classes and occupational groups even had different graveyards in cemeteries. And Persians formed a very superior class by themselves.
If Mughal India, or indeed the whole eastern Muslim world, had a natural aristocracy, they were Persians. Everyone looked up to Persians, and Persians looked down on everyone. Their language was the Mughal court language, their culture the Mughal court culture, and it was from the Shah of Persia that the Mughal emperor sought peer recognition.
Apart from their assumed superior culture, the fair skin of Persians also helped to establish their superior status-a bias for fair complexion was part of the Indian psyche, and in Mughal India, in popular perception, all fair-skinned Muslim immigrants were viewed as Mughals, and therefore as masters. "The children of the third and fourth generation," writes Bernier, "who l:!.ave the brown complexion, and the languid manner of this country of their nativity, are held in much less respect than new comers."
Persians often sneered at Mughals and Indians as semi-barbarians; they snickered at the Indian efforts to speak and write Persian, and ridiculed the Indian imitations of Persian courtly manners as vulgar, very much in the same way in which the British would later privately mock Anglicized Indians. Persians, says Bernier, often indulged in much "satirical merriment" about Indians; Manucci says that Persians often called Indians 'slaves' or 'blacks'.
The topmost positions in the Mughal empire were invariably held by Persians. It was not, however, merely their racial origin or superior culture that won Persians their privileged place, but rather their high talent, hard work, and devotion. "No other nation is better than the Persians for acting as clerks," Aurangzeb maintained. "In war, too ... none of this nation has turned his face away from the field, and their firm feet have never been shaken. Moreover, they have not once been guilty of disobedience or treachery to their master. But, as they insist on being treated with great honor, it is very difficult to get on together with them. You have anyhow to conciliate them and should employ subterfuges." The traits of Persians, Aurangzeb believed, were derived from their astrological status. "As the Sun is the guardian planet of the Persians, the intellectual keenness of those men in quickness of perception and foresight is four times as great as that of the Indians, whose tutelary planet is Saturn," he stated. "Their only defect is that by reason of its conjunction with Venus, they have grown ease-loving, whereas men governed by Saturn are accustomed to toil."
In contrast to Persians, Afghans, whom the Mughals overthrew from power in Hindustan, were generally seen, in the jaundiced eyes of the victor, as a crude and vulgar people, without manners, gluttons and drunkards. "These Afghans remain very rustic and tactless!" says Babur. Afghans were a tough, unruly people, "an intractable race," as Bernier puts it. "Even the menials and carriers of water belonging to that nation are high-spirited and warlike."
The sharpest division among Muslims in India at this time was the north-south division. The northern Muslims were predominantly Sunnis, while in the south they were mainly Shiahs. In the north, India-born Muslims and Hindu converts were held in low esteem, and were denied any major role in government. In contrast, in the south, native Muslims held high positions, along with Afghans, Ethiopians and a few Persians. The preferred language of Muslims in the north was Persian; in the south, it was Dakhini (Deccani Urdu). Further, as Muslims constituted only a small percentage of the population in the south, a far greater number of Hindus were employed in high positions in the southern Muslim kingdoms than in the Mughal empire.
However whether in the south or the north, a Muslim, whatever be his race and sect, automatically belonged to the ruling class in Mughal times. It was a matter of wonder to contemporary as well as later European writers that a small number of Muslims should have been able so effortlessly to dispossess Hindus of power and rule over them for so many centuries, treating them as second-class citizens, and subjecting them to severe political, social and economic disabilities. "It seems a wonderful thing, that such a prodigious multitude of men should be cowed by a handful, and bow so easily under the yoke of the Mahometan princes," says Jean Baptiste Tavernier.
Hindus and Muslims were in every respect antipodal communities. Yet by and large they coexisted in peace. Though there were innumerable revolts against Muslim rulers in India, nearly all of them were by Muslim nobles, hardly any by Hindu chieftains. There were occasional communal flare-ups over such issues as cow slaughter, Holi revelry and Diwali fireworks, and sometimes Hindus retaliated against temple demolitions-remarks Sher Shah: "[Hindus] have thrown down masjids and buildings of believers and placed idol shrines in them"-but there were no major communal conflicts in Mughal India. Foreign travelers, who would normally have reported such matters, are entirely silent on them.
How do we account for this strange amicability? One reason could be that Muslim rulers were not as harsh to Hindus as is commonly assumed. Contemporary Muslim writers of course exultingly tell gory tales of the oppression of Hindus by Muslim rulers, but there is little doubt that they were panegyrically exaggerating the religious fervor of their patrons in the conventional hyperbolic style of the times.
Infidel-bashing was more a matter of literary overkill than of physical excess. Typical was the comment of Badauni on the death of a Hindu officer: "He went to his natural abode-Hell, where he got into hot water." And on the death of Todar Mal and Bhagwan Das, he wrote that they "hastened to the abode of hell and torment, and in the lowest pit became the food of serpents and scorpions-may God scorch them both!" Such affectations had become so common a routine that even the Hindu chroniclers of the age writing in Persian, like Ishwardas Nagar, adopted it, invoking damnation on Hindus in the manner of the Muslim chroniclers-they, as H. M. Elliot points out in his classic mid-nineteenth century compilation of the chronicles of Muslim rule, routinely referred to fellow Hindus as infidels, and stated that when Hindus were 'killed "their souls were dispatched to hell", and that when Muslims were killed they drank "the cup of martyrdom".
It was not that there was no discrimination. Though the actual conditions of life for Hindus under Muslim rule was not as rough as the chronicles of the age would have us believe, there is no doubt that they lived under severe restrictions. For a short while, under Akbar, their inferior status virtually disappeared, but even then not entirely, and at no time would a Muslim of even the lowest status have considered giving a daughter in marriage to a Hindu of even the highest status. It was a major crime for a Hindu to keep a Muslim woman as wife or concubine. Even the easygoing Jahangir was incensed when he learned that a Muslim community in the Bhimbhar district of Kashmir was giving daughters to Hindus, and he forbade the practice on penalty of death. In the same spirit, Jahangir cut off the tongue of a son of Raja Bikramjit, imprisoned him and ordered that he should eat only with dog-keepers and outcasts-for the crime of keeping a Muslim concubine, and for killing her mother and father to keep it a secret.
The degree of discrimination that Hindus had to suffer varied from ruler to ruler and from province to province, depending on the ethos of the region and the temper of its governor. A ludicrous case was that of the Mughal governor of Lahore, Husain Khan, who once committed what he considered to be a most awful faux pas, in greeting a Hindu with civility, mistaking him to be a Muslim, because he was dressed in the Muslim style. On realizing his mistake, the Khan was so thoroughly ashamed of himself that, to avoid similar blunders in future, he ordered that Hindus thereafter "should sew a patch of stuff of a different color on their garments near the bottom of the sleeve," says Badauni. He further ordered that Hindus, "in accordance with the requirements of the Holy Law, should not ride on saddles, but should sit on a packsaddle."
Such fiats were as much the expressions of ruling class arrogance as of religious prejudice. In fact, the Hindu-Muslim relationship was primarily a relationship between masters and subjects, not just between two competing communities. This largely accounts for Muslim haughtiness and Hindu subservience. Hindus suffered disabilities not merely because of their religion, but also because they were a subject people, and they deferred to Muslims because they (Muslims) were the masters. The 300-odd years of Muslim rule that preceded the Mughal regime had ingrained in Hindus a subject mentality.
Hindus were moreover long habituated to discriminations within Hindu society itself, because, of caste and sectarian divisions, and the taboos and tyrannies associated with them. To most Hindus, ill-treatment by Muslims would have seemed like any other caste or sectarian outrage, maybe more virulent than anything within Hindu society, but not fundamentally different. Besides, for the common people, who were brutally exploited by their own rulers, the establishment of Muslim rule meant merely the substitution of one predator by another, which did not significantly alter the quality of their lives.
Passivity was in any case a Hindu cultural trait. Their lot was their karma, Hindus believed, and by and large they fatalistically accepted their subject status, as if it were their natural, immutable condition of life, and they tried to make do within that environment, taking all excesses and humiliations in their sluggish stride. Through all the political and social upheavals in medieval India, and some radical movements within Hinduism itself, the Hindu social order endured its structure and indwelling spirit the same. It accommodated all things new or deviant in its capacious fold by applying the principle of tolerance by exclusion. Hindu society yielded to change like a plant bending to the wind, but did not itself change. This was its means of survival. The "peaceable and submissive Deportment [of Hindus] wins mightily upon the Moors and takes off much of that scornful Antipathy which they harbor against them," says J.Ovington.
There was in any case little chance of a Hindu/Muslim divide in Mughal India, because Hinduism, unlike Islam, was not a monolithic religion, but a conglomeration of divergent sects and castes. "The idolaters," says Tavernier, "have no union among themselves, and ... superstitions have introduced so strange a diversity of opinions and customs that they never agree with one another." Writes Manucci: "The inhabitants of these places differ in their customs, as well as in their mode of life, the ceremonial at their temples, and the doctrines of their religion." Despite the traditional brahminical endeavor to incorporate local and tribal deities into the Hindu pantheon, and the devotional bhakti movement tending to efface regional differences, Hindu gods in Mughal India remained mostly localized. The gods worshipped by one Hindu community were not worshipped by other Hindu communities.
Divergence in the occupations of Muslims and Hindus also helped to deflect communal tensions. Muslims were mostly in government service or in some sinecure or other; a small number of them were traders and craftsmen, but they generally avoided agriculture, which they considered a demeaning occupation, while trade and agriculture, especially agriculture, were the primary occupations of Hindus. "First, they are the leading merchants and jewelers, and they are most able and expert in their Qusiness," says Pelsaert about the occupations of urban Hindus. "Next, they are workmen, for practically all work is done by Hindus, the Moslems practicing scarcely any crafts but dyeing and weaving ... Thirdly, they are clerks and brokers: all the business of the lords' palaces and of the Moslem merchants is done by Hindus-book-keeping, buying, and selling. They are particularly clever brokers, and are consequently generally employed as such throughout all these countries, except for the sale of horses, oxen, camels, elephants, or any living creatures, which they will not handle as the Moslems do."
Communal peace was also facilitated by the fact that Hindus in general did not come into everyday contact with Muslims, for Muslims in India were largely an urban people, while most Hindus lived in villages. In the urban centres where the two communities mingled, peace generally prevailed because the Hindu urban elite belonged either to the political or the trading class, and both these classes had a vested interest in avoiding strife, though for different reasons-the political class, especially the Rajputs, had made a cosy career for themselves by serving the Mughals; as for the trading class, they kept as low a profile as possible, to make themselves and their wealth invisible to the rapacious rulers. The urban Hindu adroitly adopted Mughal culture to blend with the new rulers, dressing like them, living in homes like theirs, and speaking their language.
It was all politics (or business) as usual. On the few occasions when the Hindu political elite clashed with Muslim rulers, the primary issue involved was power, not religion. The Maratha, Rajput and Sikh rebellions, though they had some communal aspects to them, were essentially political conflicts. Thus we see Maratha captains, on occasion Shivaji himself, serving in Muslim armies, and we see Muslim captains in the Maratha army; there were Muslim chiefs in the army of Rana Pratap Singh opposing Akbar, and there were Rajput chiefs, including the Rana's brother, in Akbar's army menacing the Rana; Vijayanagar had Muslim divisions in its army fighting against the Deccan Sultanates, who in turn had Hindu divisions in their armies; the Sultans sometimes sought the help of Vijayanagar against each other, while Vijayanagar factions often invited Bijapur to intervene in their internal squabbles; Ranga Rayal, the last of the Vijayanagar rulers, once even offered to become a Muslim along with his family in return for Mughal help against his enemies; the list could go on.
Only very rarely do we hear of Hindu chieftains seeking to protect Hindus. Akbar's general Man Singh is said to have once forbidden the Mughal army under his command from plundering in Rajasthan, but normally Rajput chieftains offered no opposition even to temple demolitions by the Mughals. As for Muslim rulers, temple demolitions were a part of their victory rite rather than a specifically religious act. Though Muslim rulers often termed their wars against Hindu kings as jihad, this was done more as a matter of convention than as a deliberate policy: their objective was political rather than religious.
Muslim rulers, even the Turko-Afghans,· were on the whole careful not to push Hindus beyond endurance. By the time the Turks invaded India, the religious fervor of Islam had largely dissipated the motive of their conquest was essentially political, not religious and this had a moderating influence on Muslim theocracy in India. As for the Mughals, except in Aurangzeb and to some extent in Shah Jahan, the religious impulse was virtually non-existent in them, and they sought to conciliate Hindus to their rule through such measures as the abolition of jizya and the prohibition of cow slaughter. "Oxen and cows are not slaughtered, as they have to work while they are young, doing everything that is done by horses in Holland; and besides, their slaughter is strictly forbidden by the King on pain of death, though buffaloes may be freely killed," says Pelsaert of what he observed in Jahangjr's India. "The King maintains this rule to please the Hindu rajas and banias, who regard the cow as one of the most veritable gods or sacred things."
The Mughals also took care to give the Hindu political elite an important role in the governance of the empire. The number of Hindus in Mughal service was however small relative to their population, and only a handful of them occupied top government positions even in the best of times, and no Hindu was ever elevated to the post of the Vizier, the highest office in the Mughal empire. Hindus were mostly in subordinate positions.
Hindus generally had a greater political role in small Muslim kingdoms than in the Mughal empire-the Vizier of Sultan Abdul Muzaffar Shah of Malwa early in the sixteenth century, for instance, was a Rajput, Basant Rai; later, another Rajput, Medini Rai, became the de facto ruler of the kingdom under Sultan Mahmud, and Rajputs occupied all the important positions in government. In Bijapur during the reign of Muhammad Adil Shah, the government was "delivered ... over to a mischievous, turbulent Brahmin, named Murari Pundit," says Lahori; and in Golconda, Madanna, another Brahmin, ruled supreme for several years in the name of the sultan. A few Hindus of the lower castes also rose to high positions in Muslim states-they in fact had far greater career opportunities in Muslim states than in caste-bound Hindu kingdoms, as the dramatic rise of Hemu under Adil Shah of Bihar demonstrated. The Hindu-Muslim barrier was a soft barrier, which could be easily pierced by men of ability.
Surprisingly there were hardly any Brahmins, the traditional Hindu ministerial class, among the top officers of the Mughal empire, Raja Birbal, Akbar's companion, and Raghunath, Aurangzeb's revenue minister, being the only distinguished exceptions. Though the Mughals preferred Hindus as revenue administrators-at one time Hindus headed the revenue departments in eight of the twelve Mughal provinces-the top positions were held by Khattris and Kayasthas and an occasional Rajput, not by Brahmins.
The most prominent Hindu community in the Mughal service were the Rajputs, and they were held in high esteem by the emperors. "Rajas," writes Bernier, "bear an equal rank with the foreign and Mahometan Omrahs." Still, the Rajputs could not aspire to the high administrative positions held by Persians, and were mostly in military service. Says Pelsaert, "In wartime the race is much esteemed, and is feared by other classes of soldiers, but during peace they get the cold shoulder, because in palaces or camps they make less show or display than the Moguls or Hindustanis." Even under Akbar, Rajput soldiers were paid less than Muslim soldiers.
The Rajputs were a heterogeneous people. Though some of them in bold flights of fancy traced their origin to Vedic Aryans or epic heroes, most of them were descendants of early medieval immigrants, while some were of the Dravidian and aboriginal stock. What distinguished them was not race but martial culture. "They are a bold and courageous people, determined and loyal," lauds Pelsaert. "Rasbooches ... knowe as well howe to dye as anye men in the world, in regard to theire desperatenesse," says Withington. "Those (Rajputs) excepted," remarks Terry, "all the rest in the countrey are in generall pusilanimous, and had rather quarrell than fight." Rajput chiefs, says Manucci, "carry on such a disastrous. warfare against each other that it is rare to see one of them die of disease."
Like many other medieval people, the Rajputs were given to banditry, and, though they had a certain reputation for chivalry, they were by no means the white knights that British romantics like James Tod imagined them to be. "Rashbootes, a number of which live by spoyle; who in troopes surprize poore passengers, cruelly butchering those they get under their power," says Terry. Confirms Careri: "The Rashootis are very great Thieves." The odium of this charge is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the term Rajput was at one time a synonym for brigand, and the Rajputs, line the Marathas in later times, often had unfairly to bear the blame for the crimes of others.
Whatever their faults, the Rajputs had a relatively high sense of personal honour, and they were usually steadfast in loyalty and relentless in battle. These were not, however, absolute virtues, but relative to the political and military culture of the age. The Rajputs were not a people apart. Even the best of them sometimes opportunistically switched loyalties-as Jai Singh did when he abandoned Dara for Aurangzeband many valued life and career over honor. Jaswant Singh, for instance, often changed sides and betrayed trust. His valour too was suspect. According to Khafi Khan, after the battle of Dharmat "Raja Jaswant's chief wife ... strongly condemned her husband's conduct, and refused to sleep with him." The raja, in her view, should have died in the battlefield, rather than return home defeated.
Honor was everything to the Rajput. It was his strength. And also his weakness. "One of the fundamental rules of their caste is never to give way, but either to die or conquer," says Manucci. Unfortunately, most of the time the Rajputs died rather than conquered. Their fierce obstinacy, though awesome, was not always an advantage, for to retreat tactically was as important in battle as to fight heroically. They were so fearless in battle as to seem almost senseless. Aurangzeb had therefore only disdain for what he termed "the crass stupidity of the Hindustanis, who would part with their heads but not leave their positions [in battle]".
The Rajputs were voluptuaries of death. Cultural habituation was a major factor in theft daredevilry, but so was poppy chemistry. Living in a state of perpetual war, the Rajput had become a familiar of carnage. Death meant little to him, his own or that of others. And this trait was augmented, perhaps crucially, by the Rajput practice of going into the battlefield heavily drugged with opium. "They are slow to retreat in a fight, and are obstinate in attack, because the quantity of opium they eat excites them, and causes them to care little for their lives," says Pelsaert.
The most awesome Rajput rite of honor was jauhar, in which, when faced with certain defeat, a fate worse than death for them, they sacrificed their women and children-normally in fire, but if time was short, by sword and dagger-and then, frenzied with opium, shed all
their clothes, and offered themselves to be ritually slaughtered by their own captains, or charged naked on the enemy, to kill and be killed, in a carnal embrace of death beyond defeat and victory.
The fearsome rite was probably a primitive tribal custom brought into India by migrants, but the term jauhar seems to have been derived from jauhara, the Prakrit version of the Sanskrit term jatu-griha, meaning a lac-house, like the inflammable house in which the Kauravas tried to burn the Panda vas alive in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The Mughals beheld jauhar for the first time at Chanderi. Records Babur: "In a short time the Pagan, in a state of complete nudity, rushed out to attack us, put numbers of my people to flight ... Two or three hundred of them slew each other in the following manner: One person took his stand with a sword in his hand, while the others, one by one, crowded in and stretched out their necks eager to die."
Jauhar was not an individual decision, but a community choice. Women and children had to be killed to save them from dishonor at the hands of the enemy, and perhaps also for the warriors thus to sever all earthly attachments, so they could face death without anxiety. "It is the custom of Indian rajas under such circumstances to collect wood, cotton, grass, ghee, and such like into one place, and to bring the women and burn them, willing or unwilling," notes Abul Faz!. "This they call jauhar . . . Whoever out of feebleness of soul was backward [to sacrifice herself] was, in accordance with their custom, put to death." In most cases Rajput women needed no inducement to perform jauhar. "Women, especially Rajput women, have often a higher sense of honor than men," says Khafi Khan; "and for this reason will rather bear the torture of fire than suffer disgrace."
The Rajputs, for all their valor and romantic history, had no political future in India. Their time in the sun had in fact been over long before the Mughal conquest of India. The Mughal connection potentiated them temporarily by opening up for them a theatre of operation far wider than they could have otherwise had, but they became too enmeshed with the Mughals to survive the fall of the empire.
The Rajputs were eager collaborators of the Mughals, and not even the theocratic rigor of Aurangzeb turned them away. It was only when Aurangzeb began to abrogate their political privileges that they turned hostile. This willing subservience of the rajas was a major reason for the remarkable dynastic stability of the Mughals. Says Francois Bernier: "Fifteen or sixteen of these Rajas are rich and formidable . . . [and if some of them] chose to enter into an offensive league, they would prove dangerous opponents to the Mogol." Manucci believed that "if they (the Rajputs) were only of one mind they would be able to thrust out every other tribe and race."
Internecine squabbles among the Rajputs precluded any possibility of a Rajput league against the Mughals. Even if the Rajput clans had united, it is doubtful whether they could have fought off the Mughalsa desert people, they were poor in resources, and their mode of warfare, which relied on individual valour rather than on discipline and training, was archaic and ineffective. The Rajput domains were tiny in comparison to the Mughal empire-all their kingdoms together made up only a small portion of the vast land mass of the Mughal empire; the great Rajput states of Chitor, Jodhpur and Bikaner were just districts in the Mughal province of Ajmer, and Jaipur a taluq subdivision of a district.
As the political role of the Rajputs atrophied, that of the Marathas swelled, and they would emerge from the shambles of Shivaji's little kingdom to sweep across the subcontinent. In another respect, the future also belonged to Brahmins, who, despite their numerous sectarian and lineage divisions, were the only distinctive all-India community. They were a baffling people to Europeans, an embodiment of the mystery of the mysterious East. Terry, reflecting the common prejudice of the Christian clergy, says that Brahmins were "so sottish and inconstant in their grounds that they scarce know what they hold."
Manuccisarcastically notes that Brahmins, "according to their view, are the noblest family of all mankind, and the one most venerated, not merely as superiors, but as gods." Their ingenuity, however, could not be denied. Writes Pelsaert, "Some of the brahmans are very ingenious, good astronomers, familiar with the course of stars."
With the near total eclipse of Hindu kingdoms in medieval India, Brahmins had lost their secure traditional role as royal advisors, and though here and there they did rise above the tide-there was even a dreaded Brahmin bandit by the name of Chintu Chimma in Bijapurthe community was in general on the decline in Mughal India. It was only with the establishment of the Maratha kingdom that Brahmins finally began to rehabilitate themselves, achieving a position of political prominence, which they would further expand and consolidate under the British, by both serving and battling the new empire.
In trade; the dominant community in Mughal times were Baniyas. They concentrated almost exclusively on making money, and were viewed with resentful respect by Europeans who also had their eyes glued to money. Rivalling Baniyas in commercial acumen were Parsees, a tiny community with a great future. They were ancient Zoroastrian fire worshippers who had fled from religious persecution in Iran, to settle in Gujarat in the tenth century. From Gujarat they gradually spread southward towards Bombay, living quietly and obscurely as farmers and weavers. "Their profession is, for the generality, all kinds of husbandry," says Terry. Peter Mundy found them cultivating palm-trees. "Their habitations are for the most part along the Sea-Coast," writes Mandelslo, "and they live very peaceably, sustaining themselves by the advantage they make out of the Tobacco they plant, and the Terry (toddy) they get out of the Palms of these parts, and whereof they make Arak, in regard they are permitted to drink Wine. They intermeddle also with Merchandise, and the exchange of Money and keep Shops, and are of all Trades, except those of Farriers, Blacksmiths and Locksmiths; in regard it is an unpardonable sin among them to put out the fire." "In their Callings they are very Industrious and diligent, and careful to train up their Children to Arts and Labour," says J.Ovington.
In 1578 the community suddenly and dramatically emerged into Mughal history, when Akbar invited their leader, Dastur Mahyarji Rana, to explain Zoroastrianism to him. In the seventeenth century, Parsees established an energizing and immensely profitable association with European traders, especially the English. The chief broker of the English factory at Surat in 1660, for instance, was a Parsee, Rustom Manek, and it was to a Parsee, Kharshedji Pochaji, that the English entrusted, in 1664, the construction of their fort in Bombay. Thus began the community's ascent to prosperity and national prominence.
There are in Mughal accounts a few other sketches, brief and random, of several other Indian communities. Kashmiris, especially Kashmiri women, fascinated Bernier; he considered them as beautiful as the women of Europe and spent a good amount of his time (and money) in the engaging hobby of girl-watching in Kashmir. As for the men of Kashmir, they were, says Bernier, "celebrated for wit, and considered much more intelligent and ingenious than the Indians."
At the other end of the subcontinent from Kashmir were the 'Malabaris', the people of Kerala, whom Linschoten at the close of the sixteenth century considered as "verie arrogant and proud, of colour altogether blacke, yet verie smooth both of haire and skinne, which commonly they anoynt with Oyle, to make it shine ... Of Face, Bodie and Limbes, they are altogether like men of Europe, without any difference, but onley in colour. The men are commonly verie hairie, and rough upon the brest, and on their bodies." Ralph Fitch found them bizarre, with "horrible great eares, with many rings set with pearles and stones in them."
Beyond the pale of medieval Indian society were the untouchables. "To give some conception of the infamy attached by the Hindus to these blacks, I will say that there are no words to express the vileness of the esteem in which they are held," says Manucci. The outcastes passively accepted their lot, observes Ovington, and to go thro' with their Drudgery without noise aad concern." In Kerala, outcastes were not allowed to get closer than about twenty metres to a high caste Hindu, says Thevenot in “On India and it’s People”; a Nair could kill an untouchable if his breath fell on him. As for the forest tribes, they were regarded as no different from wild beasts. During the royal hunt, says William Finch, "the beasts taken, if mans meat, are sold and the money given to the poore; if men, they remain the Kings slaves, which he yearely sends to Cabull to barter for horses and dogs; these beeing poore, miserable, theevish people that live in woods and desarts, little differing from beasts." The Marathas, it is said, "trapped and slew them Gungle tribes) in numbers as pests and outcasts."
Slavery was also common in Mughal India, as in other parts of the medieval world. Enslaving the conquered people had the sanction of tradition among both Hindus and Muslims, and slaves were as numerous in the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar as in any Muslim state. Slaves abounded in Goa too, where, according to Linschoten, they "were sold daily in the market like beasts." During times of famine, children were often sold into slavery or hawked in the streets. A Persian envoy once bought a large number of slaves in India, for they were, says Bernier, "extremely cheap" on account of the famine. The normal price of a slave in India was fifteen or twenty rupees, though at times it rose to as much as fifty rupees; a slave girl in Goa cost forty to sixty rupees. Insolvent debtors and tax defaulters were also enslaved; sometimes their wives and children were taken in payment of debts. Agricultural bondage was also common.
To be a slave was not, however, odious in the Muslim world. Many slaves rose to high positions in government, and some even rose to be sultans in Delhi before the Mughals. In the Deccan they-like Malik Amber, the de facto ruler of Ahmadnagar, who was Originally a slave-continued to playa major role in politics in Mughal times. Slaves from Ethiopia (Habshis) were especially valued in the Deccan as eunuchs and bodyguards, and it was they who manned the local navies.
Akbar disfavored slavery and "forbid the restriction of personal liberty and the selling of slaves", says Abul Faz!. Elsewhere he amplifies:
"It had been the custom of the royal troops, in their victorious campaigns in India, to sell forcibly and keep in slavery the wives, children, and dependents of the natives. But His Majesty, actuated by his religious, prudent, and kindly feelings, now issued an order that no soldier of the Royal Army should act in this manner."
Still, slavery persisted in India. In the mid-nineteenth century, the British, who had by then become the dominant power in India, formally abolished slavery, and the practice then gradually died out. There was no agitation against its abolition. Slavery has always been mild in India.
By the close of the seventeenth century there were a fair number of Europeans all over India, in trading and political centers. The Portuguese were the first to arrive, in 1498, when Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut on the Kerala coast, seeking, as he put it, "Christians and spices", and went on to rule the Indian seas in the name of Mammon and Christ. A century later, the Dutch arrived on the scene, and then came the English, the French and the Danes, while Portuguese power declined. As traders, Europeans were generally welcomed by Indian rulers, for the curiosities they brought from Europe-ranging from works of art to wine and pet dogs-as well as for the profit from their trade, and occasionally for military supplies like cannons and horses. Indian Muslim rulers also looked to them for protection of the overseas pilgrim traffic to Mecca.
Akbar was the first emperor to admit Europeans to the Mughal court, Jesuit priests whom he summoned from Goa to instruct him in Christianity and European culture. By the mid-seventeenth century, European professionals in various fields, especially artillerymen, were employed in growing numbers by Indian rulers. European gunners were a pampered class, who, says Manucci, "only took aim; as for all the rest-the fatigue of raising, lowering, loading, and firing-this was the business of ... labourers kept for the purpose." Some of them were paid as much as 200 rupees a month, about fifteen times more than what was paid to Indian artillerymen. When Aurangzeb cut the European artillerymen to size by reducing their pay, and in addition required them to load the guns, several of them, including Manucci, left the imperial service.
Europeans in India were a motley lot-traders, professionals like physicians and jewellers, royal ambassadors, missionaries, adventurers, romantics, as well as cheats, vagabonds and desperadoes. The first English settler in India was probably Fr. T. Stevens, an Oxford educated Jesuit missionary who landed in Goa in 1579, lived there for forty years, mastered the Marathi language, compiled its grammar and wrote in it an epic poem of 11,000 strophes titled Krishta Purana on the life and teachings of Christ. The letters of Stevens to his father in England, which were later published, are believed to have contributed to the growing British interest in India, roused already by legends of Portuguese adventures.
European physicians were favored by the Mughal aristocracy, for most of them, like Bernier, were highly qualified, though some, like Manucci, the gunner-turned-physician, were shameless quacks. Such was the faith of Indians in the healing powers of Europeans that even quacks thrived sensationally. Once a surgeon accompanying Norris was called to attend to a man dead for several hours, which drew from the acerbic ambassador the comment that Indians were so ignorant that they believed the English could "almost raise ye deade".
A number of wild European adventurers, the dregs of European society, also began to descend on India around this time. "They are of many nations, mostly thieves and criminals," says Manucci. "The Christians who served in the artillery of the Moguls retained of Christianity nothing but the mere name ... were devoid of the fear of God, had ten or twelve wives, were constantly drunk, had no occupation but gambling and were eager to cheat whomsoever they could." European pirates roamed the Indian seas, infamous desperadoes like William Kidd and Henry Bridgman (alias Evory), who terrorized the Indian seas at the turn of the seventeenth century. The most villainous of the lot were the Portuguese and half-caste pirates operating in the Bay of Bengal-"They were unworthy not merely of the names of Christians, but of men," says Manucci.
Many Europeans in India adopted the Indian lifestyle, but many others, especially those from the upper classes, did not; they had no empathy for Mughal culture, and looked down on India with the pride of a resurgent Europe. But then, Indians had no great regard for Europeans either. While Europeans saw themselves as major players in India, the Mughals regarded them as minor curiosities. Thus while Sir Thomas Roe, the British ambassador, and Captain Hawkins, the presumed ambassador, claimed intimacy with Jahangir, and their journals are full of lore about their relationships with the emperor, there is not even a passing word about either of them in the 745-page long (in English translation) memoirs of Jahangir, though the visits of Persian ambassadors are described in detail, and even the missions from petty Central Asian potentates are noted. European powers did not amount to much in Mughal estimation.
Continue to P.2
The sources of quotations are given in the text.