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THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE MOGUL
I. THE RUIN OF AURANGZEB.
BY SIR W. W. HUNTER.
[SIR WILLIAM Wilson HUNTER was born near Hawick, Scotland, in 1840. Educated at the universities of Glasgow, Paris, and Bonn, he headed the Indian civil appointments of 1862; was prizeman at Calcutta University for proficiency in Sanskrit and Indian vernaculars; chief of public instruction during the Orissa famine of 1866, he wore himself out in relief work, was invalided home and there wrote the uniquely valuable “ Annals of Rural Bengal" (continued later as “ Orissa”), and “ Dictionary of the Non-Aryan Languages of India and High Asia." Returning, he was Under-Secretary of India in 1870; in 1871 made DirectorGeneral of Statistics, he carried out in the decade to 1880 the Statistical Survey of India (taking the first Indian census in 1872), 128 vols., condensed 1881 into 14 vols., one a history of India written by him. In 1881 he was placed on the Legislative Council ; in 1882 made president of the Education Commission, and raised the teaching work of India into a system of national education; he was also on the Finance Commission, and Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. In 1887 he completed his quarter-century in India and returned to England. He planned the “Rulers of India" series, and wrote the “Mayo” and “Dalhousie" in it, besides larger biographies of these two. He has also published “ The Indian Mussulmans," " A System of Famine Warnings," “ The Thack. erays in India," etc. ]
WHEN Dr. Johnson wanted a modern example of The Vanity of Human Wishes, he took the career of the Royal Swede. But during the same period that witnessed the brief glories of Charles the Twelfth in Europe, a more appalling tragedy of wrecked ambition was being enacted in the East. Within a
. year of Charles's birth in 1681, Aurangzeb, the last of the Great Mughals, set out with his grand army for Southern India. Within a year of Charles's fatal march to Russia in 1708, Aurangzeb’s grand army lay shattered by a quarter of a century of victory and defeat; Aurangzeb himself was dying of old age and a broken heart; while his enemies feasted around his starving camp, and prayed heaven for long life to a sovereign in whose obstinacy and despair they placed their firmest hopes. The Indian
emperor and the Swedish king were alike men of severe simplicity of life, of the highest personal courage, and of indomitable will. The memory of both is stained by great crimes. History can never forget that Charles broke an ambassador on the wheel, and that Aurangzeb imprisoned his father and murdered his bretbren.
But here the analogy ends. As the Indian emperor fought and conquered in a wider arena, so was his character laid out on grander lines, and his catastrophe came on a mightier scale. He knew how to turn back the torrent of defeat, by commanding his elephant's legs to be chained to the ground in the thick of the battle, with a swift yet deliberate valor which Charles might have envied. He could spread the meshes of a homicidal intrigue, enjoying all the time the most lively consolations of religion ; and he could pursue a state policy with humane repugnance to the necessary crimes, yet with an inflexible assent to them, which Richelieu would have admired. From the meteoric transit of Charles the Twelfth history learns little. The sturdy English satirist probably put that vainglorious career to its highest purpose when he used it “to point a moral, or adorn a tale.” From the ruin of Aurangzeb the downfall of the Mughal Empire dates, and the history of modern India begins.
The house of Timur had brought with it to India the adventurous hardihood of the steppes, and the unsapped vitality of the Tartar tent. Babar, the founder of the Indian Mughal Empire in 1526, was the sixth in descent from Timur, and during six more generations his own dynasty proved prolific of strongly marked types. Each succeeding emperor, from father to son, was, for evil or for good, a genuine original man. In Babar himself, literally The Lion, the Mughal dynasty had produced its epic hero; in Humayun, its knight-errant and royal refugee; in Akbar, its consolidator and statesman; in Jahangir, its talented drunkard; and its magnificent palace-builder in Shah Jahan. It was now to bring forth in Aurangzeb a ruler whom hostile writers stigmatize as a cold-hearted usurper, and whom Muhammadan historians venerate as a saint.
Aurangzeb was born on the night of the 4th of November, 1618.
[His brothers and sisters described.]
In the midst of this ambitious and voluptuous imperial family, a very different character was silently being matured. Aurangzeb, the third brother, ardently devoted himself to study. In after-life he knew the Kuran by heart, and his memory was a storehouse of the literature, sacred and profane, of Islam. He had himself a facility for verse, and wrote a prose style at once easy and dignified, running up the complete literary gamut from pleasantry to pathos. His Persian Letters
to his Sons, thrown off in the camp, or on the march, or from a sick bed, have charmed Indian readers during two centuries, and still sell in the Punjab bazaars.
But in the case of Aurangzeb, poetry and literary graces merely formed the illuminated margin of a solid and somber learning His tutor, a man of the old scholastic philosophy, led him deep into the ethical and grammatical subtleties which still form the too exclusive basis of an orthodox Muhammadan education. His whole nature was filled with the stern religion of Islam. Its pure adoration of one unseen God, its calm pauses for personal prayer five times each day, its crowded celebrations of public worship, and those exaltations of the soul which spring from fasting and high-strained meditation, formed the realities of existence to the youthful Aurangzeb. The outer world in which he moved, with its pageants and pleasures, was merely an irksome intrusion on his inner life. We shall presently see him wishing to turn hermit. His eldest brother scornfully nicknamed him The Saint.
To a young Muhammadan prince of this devout temper the outer world was at that time full of sadness. The heroic soldiers of the early empire, and their not less heroic wives, had given place to a vicious and delicate breed of grandees. The ancestors of Aurangzeb, who swooped down on India from the north, were ruddy men in boots. The courtiers among whom Aurangzeb grew up were pale persons in petticoats. Babar,
, the founder of the empire, had swum every river which he met with during thirty years of campaigning, including the Indus and the other great channels of the Punjab, and the mighty Ganges herself twice during a ride of 160 miles in two days. The luxurious lords around the youthful Aurangzeb wore skirts made of innumerable folds of the finest white muslin, and went to war in palanquins. On a royal march, when not on duty with the Emperor, they were carried, says an eyewitness, “stretched as on a bed, sleeping at ease till they reached their next tent, where they are sure to find an excellent dinner,” a duplicate kitchen being sent on the night before.
A hereditary system of compromise with strange gods had eaten the heart out of the state religion. Aurangzeb's greatgrandfather, Akbar, deliberately accepted that system of compromise as the basis of the empire. Akbar discerned that all previous Muhammadan rulers of India had been crushed between two opposite forces, - between fresh hordes of Mussulman invaders from without, and the dense hostiie masses of the Hindu population within. He conceived the design of creating a really national empire in India, by enlisting the support of the native races. He married, and he compelled his family to marry, the daughters of Hindu princes. He abolished the Infidel Tax on the Hindu population. He threw open the highest offices in the State, and the highest commands in the army, to Hindu leaders of men.
The response made to this policy of conciliation forms the most instructive episode in Indian history. One Hindu general subdued for Akbar the great provinces of Bengal and Orissa ; and organized, as his finance minister, the revenue system of the Mughal Empire. Another Hindu general gov. erned the Punjab. A third was hurried southwards two thousand miles from his command in Kabul, to put down a Muhammadan rising in districts not far from Calcutta. A Brahman bard led an imperial division in the field, and was Akbar's dearest friend, for whose death the Emperor twice went into mourning. While Hindu leaders thus commanded the armies and shaped the policy of the empire, Hindu revenue officers formed the backbone of its administration, and the Hindu military races supplied the flower of its troops. It was on this political confederation of interests, Mussulman and Hindu, that the Mughal Empire rested, so long as it endured.
Akbar had not, however, been content with a political confederation. He believed that if the empire was to last, it must be based on a religious coalition of the Indian races. Не accordingly constructed a state religion, catholic enough, as he thought, to be acceptable to all his subjects. ... Poets glorified the new faith; learned men translated the Hindu scriptures and the Christian gospel ; Roman priests exhibited the birth of Jesus in waxwork, and introduced the doctrine of the Trinity. The orthodox Muhammadan beard was shaved; the devout Muhammadan salutation was discontinued; the Muhammadan confession of faith disappeared from the coinage; the Muhammadan calendar gave place to the Hindu. At length a formal declaration of apostasy was drawn up, renouncing the religion of Islam for the Divine Faith of the Emperor.
The Emperor was technically the elected head of the Mu. hammadan congregation, and God's vicegerent on earth. It was as if the Pope had called upon Christendom to renounce in set terms the religion of Christ. A Persian historian declares that when these “ effective letters of damnation," as he calls them, issued, “the heavens might have rent asunder and the earth opened her abyss." As a matter of fact, Akbar was a fairly successful religious founder. One or two grave men retired from his Court, and a local insurrection was easily quelled. But Akbar had no apostolic successor. His son, the talented drunkard, while he continued to exact the prostrations of the people, revived the externals of Islam at Court, and restored the Muhammadan confession of faith to the coin. Akbar's grandson, the palace-builder, abolished the prostrations. At the same time he cynically lent his countenance to the Hindu worship, took toll on its ceremonies, and paid a yearly allowance to the Hindu high-priest at Benares.
But neither the son nor the grandson of Akbar could stem the tide of immorality, which rolled on, with an ever-increasing volume, during three generations of contemptuous half-belief. One of Akbar's younger sons had drunk himself to death, smuggling in his liquor in the barrel of his fowling-piece when his supply of wine was cut off. The quarter of Delhi known as Shaitanpara, or Devilsville, dates from Akbar's reign. The tide of immorality brought with it the lees of superstition. Witches, wizards, diviners, professors of palmistry, and miracleworkers thronged the capital. “Here,” says a French physician at the Mughal Court, “they tell a poor person his fortune for a halfpenny.” A Portuguese outlaw sat as wisely on his bit of carpet as the rest, practicing astrology by means of an old mariner's compass and a couple of Romish prayer-books, whose pictured saints and virgins he used for the signs of the zodiac.
It was on such a world of immorality, superstition, and unbelief that the austere young Aurangzeb looked out with sad eyes. His silent reflections on the prosperous apostates around him must have been a somber monotone, perhaps with ominous passages in it, like that fierce refrain which breaks in upon the Easter evening psalm, “ But in the name of the Lord, I will destroy them.” A young prince in this mood was a rebuke to the palace, and might become a danger to the throne. No one could doubt his courage ; indeed, he had slain a lion set free from the intervening nets usually employed in the royal chase. At the age of seventeen his father accordingly sent him to govern Southern India, where the Hindu Marathas and two independent Muhammadan kingdoms professing the Shia heresy might afford ample scope for his piety and valor.