Mogul, European, Martha, Sikh
Akbar died, and the Mogul Empire began its slow subsidence back to the barbarism from which Barbur and Akbar had raised it. Salim, who is better known as Jahangir (World-gripper), crushed a rebellion of his son Khusru, paraded him between an avenue of his impaled followers, and then half-blinded him. Khusru remained in a semi-captivity until he died in 1622, deeply loved by the people, and tended and accompanied by his wife (he refused to take any other woman). In the splendours of the Mogul Empire we forgot the shadowy figures of its women; their twilight existence, in all its frailty and evanescence, glimmers in a verse by Jahangir’s consort, the Empress Nurjahan: “On the tomb of us poor people there will be neither a light nor a flower, nor the wings of a moth, nor the voice of a nightingale.”
Mewar was brought to submission in 1614; its ruling family kept now and hereafter, their boast of never giving a bride to the Mogul’s harem, and were treated with consideration in other respects also. Next year Sir Thomas Roe, the first English ambassador to an Indian court, reached the country. England was fortunate in her representative, a man of stiff courage and absolute integrity; the Mogul court was frankly amused by his claim to stand for a Sovereign equal to its own, but Jahangir liked and respected him so much that he humoured him. Roe was hampered by the meanness of the East India Company, who financed his errand; they did not understand the greed of the Mogul court, whose emperor always asked one question – “What presents have you brought me?”
On the contrary, they expected Roe to be largely paid by the gifts he received from the Great Mogul; those gifts he summed up as “hogs flesh, deare, a theefe, and a whore.” Jahangir, after hunting, would send him a boar or antelope, usually with a request to have the tusks or horns back; the “theefe” was a malefactor sent him as a slave, and the “whore” “a grave woeman of 40 years” who was brought to his bedside at midnight. The last was a slave of Nurjahan’s, maliciously and rather wittily sent to the solemn Englishman as a punishment for some misbehaviour. Roe refused both “theefe” and “whore.”
Jahangir appears in his own Memoirs, as well as in those of Roe and his chaplain Terry, as a despot, drunk every evening, often fiendishly cruel, often gentle and full of pleasant and friendly laughter, a cultured man who loved art and rejoiced in natural beauty. His faults were due to passionate temper and possession of unbridled power, a thing that no man is fit to have been as free as his father, with a great attraction towards Roman Catholicism.
The Mogul contempt for the Europeans was mitigated by an uneasy half-perception of the importance of sea-power. The Portuguese no longer contented themselves with hostilities against petty chieftains, but seized ships of the Mogul government. The English made a deep impression on Indian opinion in 1612, when two of their ships drubbed over twenty Portuguese ships in Swally Roads, off Western India.
In 1627, Jahangir died, and Shahjahan, his elder son, blinded his brother and massacred all his near male relations. His reign saw similar events, when his four sons warred among themselves; ultimately, Auranzeb, the third son, executed his own eldest son and two of his brothers, drove the other brother into the Burmese jungles, where he was murdered, and imprisoned his father. These doings, with many similar ones, filled up the years 1657 to 1659. Shahjahan was a prisoner in Agra fort until his death in 1666; Indian sentiment has occupied itself a good deal with the picture of the old man with his favourite daughter, Jahanara, gazing out towards the glorious Taj that he had built in humour of his dearly loved wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Shahjahan’s reign set in motion influences which worked slowly, but finally ruined the empire. He took up the work of aggrandizement where Akbar had left it, and sought to subdue the Mohammadan kingdoms of South India. He succeeded with Ahmadnagar, Golkonda, and Bijapur, but at a cost the weakening empire could not afford. He fought Persia on his Afghanistan frontiers, at great expense and with poor success. He captured the Portuguese settlements on the Hugli, and punishment them terribly for the great provocation that he had endured. He persecuted them as Christians, after he had chastised them as pirates. This was in keeping with his general policy, for while making enemies among Musalmans he was, unlike Akbar and Jahngir, a bigoted Moslem. No Hindu temples were allowed to be built, and a great many were cast down. In this way he aroused a hatred which Aurangzeb intensified, and made the ultimate downfall of the empire certain. For his suppression of Hind architecture he made some amends by the Pearl Mosque and the Taj, both at Agra. Between Akbar’s building of Fatehpur Sikri and Auranzeb’s accession the Moguls enriched the world’s store of loveliness with many magnificent buildings and fine portrait paintings. It was an Englishman, Bishop Heber, who found the right praise for these forts and tombs and mosques, when he said that their makers “built like giants and finished like jewellers.”
Aurangzeb had the Mogul courage, ability, and physical endurance; the gods, intending that he should shatter the mighty empire irretrievably, gave him nearly fifty years in which to accomplish this. He was a rigid Sunni Moslem historians everywhere allow a man’s services to their own particular nation or creed to govern their moral judgements of his actions, we must admit that this affection for Aurangzeb is reasonable. But there is an outside opinion as well as our own, and in this case it seems fairly expressed by Sir William Hunter, who says: “Magnificent in his public appearances, simple in his private habits, diligent in business, exact in his religious observances, an elegant letter-writer, and ever ready with choice passages alike from the poets and from the Koran, his life would have been a blameless one if he had no father to depose, no brethren to murder, and no Hindu subjects to oppress.”
His reign was one of continual war. Having harried his brothers and their children and friends to miserable deaths, he cleared the Ganges delta of Arakanese and Portuguese pirates. The Portuguese ceased to matter in Bengal.
In 1681, Aurangzeb’s son, Akbar, rebelled; he found Rajput help, and reminded his father, who reproached him with unfilial conduct, of what he himself had done. “Verily the guide and teacher of this path is Your Majesty; others are merely following your footsteps. How can the path which Your Majesty himself chose to follow be called ‘the path of ill-luck’?” but the political predominance of India no longer rested between Mogul and Rajput; it was going to the four powers that finally fought it out among themselves – the Marathas, Sikhs, French, and British. Aurangzeb reimposed the poll-tax on non-Moslems, and broke down thousands of temples – this at a time when Hindu sentiment had been growing for many years. In Northern India Tulsides (1532-1634), perhaps the greatest of all Hindu poets after Kalidasa, had knit his people by his Lake of the Deeds of Rama, which knits them today, being the Bible of the United Provinces. Eight gurus, or teachers, had successively strengthened the Sikhs, before Aurangzeb’s execution of the ninth guru, coming after experience of persecution and war in the time of Jahangir and Shahjahan, compelled them to become a military brotherhood. Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru, accused of staring from his prison in Delhi towards the imperial apartments, or at thy queen’s. “I was not looking in the direction of the Europeans who are coming from beyond the sea to tear down thy curtains and destroy thy empire.” In the siege of Delhi, in 1857, this prophecy was used “as a battle-cry” (Oxford History of India), and in the Mutiny the Sikhs took vengeance for their agonies in the day of the Moslem power. And in this century, the heroic age of Hindu nationalism, the greatest of Maratha religious poets, Tukaram, deeply influenced Sivalji, the Maratha leader, who opposed the Musalmans with something of their own fervour. Now, with the lesser Mohammadan kingdoms straining in defence of themselves, and the empire’s Hindu subjects everywhere bitter and desperate, the Mogul rule was fighting for its existence. How surely the scales were tilting against it we can see when we consider that the Rajput menace, though the clans were as heroic as ever, was trifling beside that of two new military powers, the Sikhs and Marathas.
The Marathas found a leader of genius in Sivaji, whom Aurangzeb called “the Mountain rat.” In these recent years of blazing Hindu patriotism Sivaji has been idealized and sometimes deified. His people lived in the hilly country behind Bombay; they were swift to scale and surprise fortresses, and mobile and elusive on their small ponies. Sivaji, though lavish to Brahmims and careful to “protect the cow,” did not imitate Aurangzeb’s bigotry by plundering mosques or insulting the Koran, and he kept his army free from women, so that very little news of his movements got out in unauthorized ways. But with him we enter the region of controversy; from now on Indian history is territory where almost every prominent man of action is to his own side a hero who must net be criticized and to the other side a scoundrel. Sivaji committed atrocities and ravaged ruthlessly, far more widely than he could conquer; but when we are amazed at the fierceness with which Hindus and Mohammadans argue as to whether he murdered the Moslem General Afzal Khan or killed him in self-defence, we must remember that when we come to Clive and Warren Hastings we shall discover that we ourselves inhabit the same excited country, and that our own writers grow angry while they protest that our heroes must be judged “by the standards they found in India” (not by the standards of their own civilization, which are inconveniently high where fairness and humanity are in question), that their temptations were dreadful, that in any case they did not do the things they obviously did do, and that, even if they did, it is unpatriotic to admit it.
Well, Sivaji is entitled to be judged by the standards of his time, which were ignoble; we are not new in the age of Asoka or the Guptas, but that of the pitiless and crafty Aurangzeb and the robber Marathas. His temptations were very great: he was fighting an empire, he was poor and his people were better at sudden raids and guerrilla warfare than open battle, and sometimes by murder he could help his cause forward. He was a brilliant leader, he did deeds chivalrous and generous as well as base and brutal, he raided far over India, establishing centres of Maratha power even in the south and making alliance with the Sultan of Golkonda. He financed himself by the famous Maratha blackmail system, by which territories that wished to be exempt from plunder paid a quarter, sometimes more, of their land revenue. He died in 1680, and his son Sambhaji was captured nine years later, and executed with awful tortures. In 1707, Aurangzeb died also, having persecuted his Hindu subjects to the point of extreme exasperation and having destroyed the independent Moslem kingdoms that might have checked the rapidly swelling tide of Hindu revolt and nationalism. His last years were marked by an even excessively austere sanctity.
We have seen that tradition says that one of Aurangzeb’s enemies drew the Emperor’s attention to the European Powers who had settled precariously on his coasts. Of these the Portuguese Aurangzeb himself eliminated, so that they matter no more. The Danes, who had two factories – which they sold to Britain in 1845 – never mattered at all. The Dutch, at first important, fought a drawn battle with the English in this century, which had equally divided results in the East; they ultimately lost India and Ceylon/Sri Lanka, but they kept the East Indies. The French did not come till 1674, when they occupied Pondichery, which is still theirs. The English East India Company was founded in 1600, with a charter from Queen Elizabeth I giving them the exclusive trading rights; they began to trade on the west coast of India in 1612, were established at Madras in 1640, acquired Bombay from the Portuguese by Charles II’s marriage settlement in 1661, and were trading in the Hugli twenty years later; they drove off attacks by Sivaji, and had a minor war with Aurangzeb; then in 1690 Job Charnock founded Calcutta. He was a picturesque and turbulent man; tradition says he rescued a beautiful Hindu woman from her husband’s funeral pyre, married her, and became half pagan, after her death celebrating its anniversary by sacrificing a cock at her tomb.