The Mogul Empire Established – Coming of the Europeans

The Mogul Empire Established – Coming of the Europeans

The sixteen century at last shows again men who were more than capable butchers or able bigots. The Hindu community out of its miseries was finding a loftier thought and experience of God. The Bengali mystic Chaitanya, about A.D. 1509, set flowing among his emotional countrymen a tide of Viashnava enthusiasm which is still a force. Fifty years or more years earlier a similar movement was begun in the United Provinces by Ramananda; his disciple Kabir, a Mohammadan weaver of Benares, united his own creed with Hinduism and taught the uselessness of all caste or sectarian divisions. He was a passionate lover of God, one of the world’s purest minds. All these man had wide influence; the common people of India have kept a considerable degree of essential civilization, although formally illiterate and governed through millenniums by barbarous rulers. We do them injustice when we confuse them with their dynasties or their priesthoods.

The Mogul Empire was established by the Battle of Panipat, in A.D. 1526; Aurangzeb, the last Mogul whom we may call Great, died in 1707; the intervening hundred and eighty-one years saw six Mogul rulers, all able men. The period is known to us intimately, and often from the memoirs of the emperors themselves. Babur, the first, is one who left his own record, the index to a gifted and attractive character. He was homesick in India; and a cynic might think that his oft-quoted complaint against the country is what endeared him to that later race of invaders who have named it “the land of Regrets.” Hindustan is a country that has few pleasures to recommend it. The people are not handsome. They have no idea of the charms of friendly society. They have no genius, no intellectual comprehension, no politeness, no kindness or fellow-feeling, no executing their handicrafts, no skill or knowledge in design or architecture. They have no good horses, no good flesh, no grapes or musk-melons, no good fruits, no ice or cold water, no good food or bread in their bazaars, no baths or colleges, or candles or torches – never a candlestick!” If we added to these lacks “no central heating and no good telephone system,” it might almost pass for the bitter cry of an American visitor to London today.

Yet Babur, almost as well as his grandson Akbar, serves to explain why Hindus sentiment has accepted the Moguls, whereas it has not accepted the preceding Mohammadan conquerors or – if the truth be told – the British. The Mongels became nationals of India, not mere raiders or a temporarily sojourning Providence. Babur’s son and grandson made their home here, and even Babur did more than conquer and curse. He taught Indians how to make gardens; he is said to have introduced grapes and melons and better roses. He brought to this solemn land gaiety and lightness, and taught it that there were Mohammadans who were not engrossing in sending “infidels” to “hell,” but had time and enthusiasm for poetry and beauty. He was a deeply cultivates man, a poet himself; like many men of action, he had a grave melancholy and imagination with his courage and vivacity. He never forgot that behind every face is a skull; as he reminded his officers on the eve of Panipat: “Whose sits down to the feast of life must and by drinking the cup of death. All visitors of the inn of mortality must one day leave this house of sorrow.” To us, with our scrupulously (and successfully) cultivated distaste of poetry, it seems queer to find a brave warrior and good general who thought the worse of a man if he wrote badly or did not appreciate good literature; yet – since Babur undeniably was a brave warrior and a good general – we forgive his weakness.

Babur at the age of fourteen became king of Samarkand. His life was one befitting the monarch of so romantic a places; his own principality was merely that of Farghanan and Samarkand was won by war, and again lost and won again. Before the final winning, an exile from his on principality, he established himself in Kabul, and fought also in the Herat and Kandahar regions. In A.D. 1519 he turned his attention to India, and attacked the frontier fort of Bajaur; he captured it, largely because its defenders were new to firearms. “The people of Bajaur had never seem matchlocks, and at first were not in the least afraid of them, but, hearing the reports of the shots, stood opposite the guns, mocking and playing unseemly antics. But that day Ustad ‘Ali Kuli brought down five men with his matchlock, and Wali Khazin killed two, and the other musketeers shot well and bravely, quitting their shields, mail, and ‘cowheads’ [or penthouses], and aiming so truly that before night seven to ten Bajauris were laid low; whereupon the defenders of the fort became so frightened that not a man ventured to show his head for fear of the matchlocks.

Bajaur was taken, and its garrison put to the sword. But, though Babur crossed the Indus, he did not go far into India. It was in November 1525, that he made his real invasion, defeating the Mohammadan Sultan; but in March, 1527, he had to fight for his life against the Hindus under Sangram Singh, Rana of Mewar. Of this famous soldier Tod says: “He exhibited at his death but the fragments of a warriors; one eye was lost in the broil with his brother, an arm in an action with the Lodi King of  Delhi, and he was a cripple owing to a limb being broken with a cannon-ball in another, while he counted eighty wounds from the sword or the lance on various parts of his body.” Babur, in more desperate peril than had fallen to even his lot, foreswore his favourite vice of drunkenness, breaking his drinking-cups and pouring his liquor away. He kept his vow till he died. He also won his battle.

We cannot follow in detail his other fighting. He died in December, 1530 – it was believed vicariously for his son Humayun, who was ill with fever. Babur walked thrice round his bed, praying aloud, “On me be all that thou art suffering.” He then cried, “I have prevailed! I have taken it!” and went out to his own death bed.

The reader will understand why Babur has been so liked by posterity. He was sometimes savagely cruel, flaying traitors alive and killing prisoners; but he did not massacre whole populations or smash Hindu temples. He was a ruler, not a mere raider. He was a devoted father and fiend, and kind to all the members of his family; these elementary virtues have been rare among the Mohammadan rulers of India, and especially rare among the Moguls. He was intensely interested in everything; he made notes of even the flora and fauna of India. His physical powers were astonishing; he could run with a man under each arm, leaping gaps burdened so. He knew disaster and intense suffering, as in the snows of the Afghan hills; but he bore all with unquenchable lightness of spirit.

Hunayun was defeated by Sher Shah, an Afghan chief in Babur; and for sixteen years he was fugitive. For six of these years Sher Shah ruled. Humayun recovered Delhi and Agra in 1555, dying next year, his son Akbar, a boy of thirteen, succeeding.

Akbar became master of all India north of the Narbada, and his fame went far outside it; our own Elizabeth wrote to “the most invisible and most mighty prince, Lord Zelabhim Echebar, king of Cambaya.” He is one of the most enigmatic figures in history, with much of the repellingly impersonal quality of Napoleon. He conquered India by valour and luck; but he held it because he was much the greatest man in it, and because, like Emir Feisal in our own day, he had the wisdom to put aside the bigotry of Islam and to open his service to men of other creeds. He gave away little of his own inner thought, and no historian has succeeded in making him a clear or vivid figure. Probably the impression one gets of cold-blooded efficiency, of sheer brain operating untroubled by passion or feeling for others, is a reasonably just one. He is of the class of Caesar and Washington and Goethe.

All the greater Moguls must have been of unusual physical vigour, as their long reigns show. Akbar was as powerful as his grandfather Babur – “possessed of immense bodily strength, which he enjoyed using” (Oxford H.I.). He came into an inheritance of war, at first of a desperate kind. He lost both Agra and Delhi, and won the Second Battle of Panipat, in 1556, by something of a fluke, the enemy’s commander being hit by an arrow in the eye, like Harold at Hastings. His real rule did not begin until 1562, when it was inaugurated by an outburst of temper that was both justified in itself and flamingly threw into relief his masterful power. His foster-mother’s son, Adham Khan, who had had things pretty mush his own way, stabbed the prime minister; Akbar’s fist felled him, and he was then flung from the battlements.

During the next thirty days Akbar systematically extended his dominions. From time to time he had to crush rebellions, especially outside India; but the long-drawn-out day in which India had pivoted politically on Afghanistan was ending, and Akbar was firmly master of the plains. It was from these that he reconquered Kabul and Kandahar, rather than the plains from the hills. Inside India, he brought to a head the secular quarrel between Hinduism and Islam, by the reduction of Mewar. The siege of Chitor lasted four months – to February 23, 1568. Akbar’s own musket picked off the enemy’s leader; the women went to the flames, the men perished fighting. This mighty citadel of a Hinduism as stern as Islam itself – whose story is written in blood and fire, every page full of the barbaric splendour of battle and the sombre pomp of widows burning at their lords’ funeral – was given to jungle, which it remains toady. You can walk over miles thick with superb towers and temples – for Akbar satisfied his vengeance with a terrible massacre, raging widely through the country – where wild peacocks and parrots are the only voices. In places every step seems to be past a stone that commemorates a suttee.

Yet, though Akbar was victor, this Rajput war shows how the Mogul rule never quite shook off the character of an army of occupation. The empire, though powerful, was shifting and uncertain. Udai Singh the most scorned and detested of Mewar Ranas, fled from Chitor before the siege and made a new capital at Udaipur; but his warrior son, Pratap Singh, recovered his kingdom piecemeal. In 1576, Man Singh, one of Akbar’s Rajput generals, defeated him at Haldighat; but the defeat, though disastrous, was so glorious that it is one of the three most cherished martial memories of secret India, the other two being Prithviraj’s last fight for Delhi and Chilianwala – which in our histories is only a sentence. And Haldighat merely checked the gallant Ranas. Before he died in 1597 he recaptured fortress after fortress.

Akbar encroached upon the independent Mohammadan kingdoms of the south, conquering Gujarat in 1573; Bengal was annexed in 15776, Orissa in 1592. He reached the strange position of being supported against his Mohammadan subjects by his Hindu ones. This was due partly to his having abolished the poll-tax on non-Moslems and thrown open all offices of State to Hindus; many of his best generals were Rajputs. It was due still more to his heterodoxy. His most prominent and perhaps greatest quality was unsleeping intellectual curiosity. Though he could not read or write his wonderful brain was served by a memory that forgot nothing he wished to remember, and it is absurd to call so cultivated a man “illiterate”; he had abundance of “letters,” even though they did not repose in his fingers and eyes. He was especially interested in ideas, most of all in religious ideas. In 1569 he had begun his beautiful new capital of Fatehpur Sikri, where he lived from 1570 to 1585, away from the bigoted influences of Delhi and Agra. Here he had a “House of Worship,” where he heard discussions between heretics and their orthodox opponents, to whom any argument less pointed than the executioner’s stake of impalement was sinful. But Akbar, though as a young ruler he had persecuted heretics, had done with that argument now; and it is good for us to remember that, though the Mogul court to the first English visitors naturally seemed barbarous beyond words with its system of cruel and summary punishments, to Akbar it was matter for amazement that the Portuguese burned heretics, and he would have looked with contempt and horror on contemporary Europe, with its Inquisition and everywhere its execution of nonconformists. What he would have thought of our witch-burnings we can guess, for he detested suttee and tried to put it down, more courageously and with more success than our own Government in its vacillating efforts prior to 1829. He had feelings of humanity in advance of his time, as he showed when he was disgusted by his son ordering an offender to be flayed alive; and if a European had objected that impalement was crueller than burning a love or breaking on the wheel, he would have replied that at any rate his criminals had broken a law or had rebelled, whereas the Hindus bunt widows for no crime except their weakness in being women, and that much the same reason seemed to operate when Europe murdered old hags as “witches.”If civilization is more than a high standard of material comfort, and means humane manners and the mind out of fetters, the balance is certainly on Akbar’s side, against any contemporary ruler in the world.

From 1579 onwards, Akbar paid great attention to the opinions of Roman Catholic priests, whom he had specially asked for from Goa. It was in this year that he had himself declared infallible in his religious opinions, subject to the text of the Koran. He had ceased to be a Moslem, and indeed his Mohammadan subjects had a bad time. He was attracted by the superior metaphysical qualities of Hinduism and Christianity, and repelled by the speculative aridity of Mohammadism; the bigotry of all three religions he scorned. He more and more relied on his own judgement; and the immense sense of power resulting from years of constant activity, in which he had never met an equal, persuaded him to found something very like the Caesar-worship of imperial Rome, who were allowed to prostrate themselves to him in private.

In 1580 a widespread rebellion of Moslem nobles broke out. He put it down in some years of fighting, and in 1604 terrified into obedience his son Salim, who had started what from now on is a feature of every Mogul reign – a rebellion of son against father. In 1605, Akbar died, having been neither saint nor extreme humanitarian; but he had given India the justest administration it had known for a thousand years, he had made the lives of his Hindus subjects worth living, he had made taxation into a system which, though a heavy burden, was an alleviation of the capricious plunder to which the population had been usually subjected. The Rajput annals throw on his character light which shows he was not the austerely mystic person that Tennyson and other Europeans writers would have us think. But it is exceptional praise to say, as we must say, that he used absolute power and outstanding intellect with substantial fairness and moderation during half a century. He is not a picturesque figure; but the world has often paid a high price for picturesqueness.

The Portuguese had established a factory at Calicut in 1500; and in 1510, Albuquerque, the greatest name in their Indian annals, captured Goa. He lost it and recaptured it the same year, the second time slaying the whole population, regardless of age or sex. Albuquerque, like Clive, was a dashing soldier; and he had not to fight any of the greater Indian powers, but only tiny coastal kingdoms. But the Portuguese failed because they brought habits acquired in their crusades against Islam, especially in North Africa. Indian warfare had struck out a technique of barbarity all its own, which had stained every nation that has fought in that land, without exception; but the cruelty of the Portuguese was incredible, and it was exercised against Mohammadans, who do not forget and who retaliate. The savage folly of the Inquisition was introduced at Goa, after Albuquerque’s time, and completed the estrangement of the people. The Portuguese rule sought to convert India; this was partly why Albuquerque established his system of mixed marriages. He discouraged the lower ranks, especially artisans, from returning to Europe, and married them to the widows of Moslems whom he had killed. The policy was meant to provide a large half-caste population, living in India, but loyal to their male ancestors’ religion and nationality. What it has done is to provide twentieth-century India with many Eurasians who are darker than most Indians, and who make a living as domestic servants – docile, hard-working, and faithful – or in bands who play music at the festivities of other races.