Mohammadan Rule

Mohammadan Rule

Mohammad Ghori’s generals overran North India, failing only when they tried to pierce the Himalayas and the Assam mountains. Massacre of Hindus and Buddhist was a religious duty, joyously accepted; it was doubly blessed, in that it left ownerless enormous treasures for distribution to the troops. The literature of war has few pages written with the exultant ferocity of the Moslem annalists who have left accounts of the five hundred years of incessant fighting on which we now enter. One hesitates to suggest that war is ever or anywhere comparatively humane; but with Mahmud of Ghazni a peculiar savagery seems to have entered into Indian war, which marked it almost to our own day. The suffering caused in India by campaigns between A.D. 1000 and 1859 probably, for a certain wanton and luxurious quality of cruelty, surpassed that endured by all the world besides. The Moslem historians have one text for their heroes, the service that they rendered to Islam; horrors are so monotonous that it became impossible to take them seriously as tragedy, just as it is impossible to take Titus Andronicus seriously. Many of the invaders were connoisseurs of Persian poetry, and some enriched India with magnificent architecture; but towards the civilization and peoples that they found in the land their attitude was merely one of boundless hatred and contempt. If we leave on one side the numerous flaying alive and impalements of enemies or rebels, we find the records still packed with scorn and bigotry. “Like a pack of hungry sharp-clawed wolves, they fell upon the flock of fox-like infidels, and dyed their swords and weapons in the blood of those wretches till streams of blood ran down the valley.” “He marched and captured other cities and killed the polluted wretches, destroying the idolatrous and gratifying the Musalmans. After wounding and killing beyond all measure, his hands and those of his friends became cold in counting the value of the plundered property.” “God also bestowed upon His friends such an amount of booty as was beyond all bounds and all calculation, including five hundred thousand slaves, beautiful men and women.” “After slaying many of the infidels they finally drank the sherbet of martyrdom” (i.e., were themselves killed).

There was no strict succession of father to son in the Slave Dynasty; and soon the army chiefs got into the way of electing whom they would, as the praetorian guards used to elect Roman Emperors. The Slave Dynasty passed, but rulers of equal ferocity succeeded. One of these Alau-d-din, marched far into South India, and established governments there. His most famous feat was the sack of Chitor, the fortress-capital of Mewar, the premier Rajput state. Tradition says that he invested it to gain possession of Padmani, the beautiful princess from Ceylon/Sri Lanka, who was married to the Regent of the young Rana (or king). Failing to capture the city, he asked but for s sight of the lady, and was admitted to the fort and allowed to stand before a mirror while she went by behind him. He returned in 1303, this time capturing the city; but not Padmani, for the Rajputs practised their rite of jauchar, which we have heard of already. This was the sending of all their women to the funeral flame, after which the men fought to the death, except for the few who might cut their way through. Padmani’s Palace still stands beside its lake, spared, we are told, by the conqueror who had vainly ruined her people to win her.

That sparing of her palace is the only good thing related of Alau-d-din. His success seems to have made him semi-crazy, but not to the extent of diminishing his merciless efficiency. He exacted half of the produce of the land held by Hindus, being sure that they would “never become submissive and obedient till they are reduced to poverty. I have, therefore, given orders that just sufficient shall be left to them from year to year, of corn, milk, and curds, but that they shall not be allowed to accumulate hoards and property.”

The ablest of the succeeding Sultans was Mohammad Bin Tuglak, who removed people of Dehli to a new capital, forty miles away, as a punishment because he had been criticized. He conquered a large empire, extending far into South India; but “the people were never tired of rebelling, nor the king of punishing.” In 1340, Bengal became independent under a Mohammadan king; during the next seventy years Mohammadan states were established in the Deccan, Malwa, and Gujarat. The Deccan sultanate later became six separate kingdoms. All this weakening of the Moslem power necessitated a modification of the old custom of slaughtering infidels. They lived, paying a poll-tax; the tax and other arguments persuaded many to become Mohammadans. Meanwhile, about A.D. 1325, a strong Hindu kingdom, Vijayanagar, arose south of the river Krishna. Its strength was the strength of desperation, and it endured, partly by alliance with one or more of the Moslem states in their constant wars among themselves, until 1565, when four of the sultans overwhelmed it and utterly destroyed the capital. Reading, in the accounts of Portuguese travellers, of Vijayanagar’s size, wealth, and magnificence, we are tempted to pity for its ruin. But it was as bigoted – on the Hindu side – and savage as the foes who broke it up. Even Sikh and Rajput history contains nothing so horrible as the story of its suttees; when a king died, two or even three thousand of his wives were burnt in his honour. Nations, like individuals, can make mistakes that impose weakness on the whole of their subsequent life. such a mistake was made when the Rig-Veda began the worship of man by woman; and again later, when the priestly side of Hinduism succeeded in driving Buddhism out of India.

We have seen enough of the five hundred years of Mohammadanism in India to understand in part why there are communal riots today, which perplexes so many in England. The strength of Mohammadanism has been its gift of a more genuine democracy, to those who embraced it, than any other religion has given. Even a slave, if a Moslem, was in a real sense a brother; and the armies of invasion knew an exultant, fanatical comradeship. The force of this bribe, at its best a perfectly legitimate one, has been incalculable; and it was reinforced by sight of the pitiless destruction meted out to non-Moslems. The weakness of Mohammadanism is that it gives the mind nothing to bite on; Hindus despise it for its poverty on the intellectual, speculative, and imaginative planes. The heretical sects have produced lovely and noble thought and poetry; but orthodox Mohammadanism except in architecture, has been the most sterile system that first-rate men have ever taken into their brain and blood.