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Mughal Empire

Brief look at 331 years of Mughal Rule



Here are some brief observations of the Mughal rule from an Indian and a Hindu perspective.


In 1398, Timur and his army of Mongols came like the locus, wiping out everything before them.  He looted, pillaged and killed like no other before him, taking away huge number of people as slaves.  He killed 100,000 captives BEFORE he attacked Delhi, promising his soldiers even more slaves to take back.  Delhi suffered so badly from his attack, it took a century for it to recover in terms of population and wealth.  Being a “Ghazi”, killing non-muslims was his favorite pastime.  


Generations later, Babur came as Timur’s descendent to pillage India (1526).  He set down roots in India as a reluctant ruler who preferred his possessions beyond the Hindu-kush mountains.  Babur had no love for the local Hindus and killed them indiscriminately, destroying temples and religious places to establish his credentials as a Ghazi.  Famous temple of Lord Rama in Ayodhya is said to have been razed by his generals and a mosque created in its place.  With the help of “guns”, a brand new weapon in the subcontinent, he managed to win battles with far fewer forces than his rivals including the sultans of Delhli.


Humayun inherited an unstable empire (1531-56) and promptly lost it. With the help of the Persians, he regained his Indian empire and promptly passed it to his son after dying in an accident while climbing down stairs.


Rule of Akbar (1556-1605) signaled a major change in policy when he decided to engage in a positive way with his Hindu subjects.  There was a flourishing of art, architecture, commerce, literature, music and understanding between the two religions that now dominated the social and political landscape.  Akbar’s policy of 'live and let live' was welcomed by his Hindu subjects who had suffered under repressive Islamic regimes in the past.  A number of new sects flourished under the benign rule of Akbar.  Hindu pilgrimage centers revived and temples were rebuilt.


Akbar founded his own sect, Din-e Ilahi in 1582, combining philosophies from all the major religions he came in contact (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism and Zoroastrian).  His muslims courtiers and supporters were confused.  They could not knock him down because his rule had ushered in a time of plenty.  They could not support him because he was actively encouraging the kafir and had created his own heretical sect / religion.


Hindus were unfazed by Akbar’s philosophical antics, as new sects were an occupational hazard in Indian philosophical circles.  Even with greater integration of Hindus and Muslims at court, there was an obvious “glass ceiling”.  To rise about a certain level, you had to be Muslim.  This can explain why some of the Hindu courtiers converted, but still retained their Hindu practices.


Playboy prince Jahangir was ambivalent about his relationship with Hindus.  Being born of a Hindu princess, he had friends and relatives on both sides of the court.  He wanted an easy life and let the kingdom be ruled by others who were far more interested in the tedious business of ruling the state (ruled 1605-1627).  His Persian wife Nur Jahan and her family were happy to oblige and rule in name of the Emperor.  His reign saw Hindus stabilize their businesses, states and lives.  Hindu religious institutions were allowed to carry on as before by the grace of previous imperial farmans.  However, he was hostile to the newly emerging Sikhs and ordered the torture and death of their Guru Arjandevji.


Shah Jahan was born to a Hindu princess but loved all things Persian.  As a result, his polices were decidedly pro-Muslim (ruled 1628 - 1658).  Though he had Hindu relatives and counted many Hindus as “friends”, he wasn’t soft on them.  He dealt firmly with anything that hurt his deep Muslim sensibilities.  Some temples and religious leaders had already succumbed his imperial rage.  For example, he exiled HH GokulNathji of Vallabh Sampradaya for disagreeing on philosophical points with him.  Sikhs continued to vex him.  His romantic architecture style revived some of the old arts and crafts lost in the previous generations.


Born of an Afghani / Persian refugee, Aurangzeb was a very orthodox ruler (ruled 1658 - 1707).  His narrow interpretation of the Koran dismantled decades of positive action that had cemented the relationship between Hindus and Muslims.  As with Henry the VIII, there might have been financial benefits of being ultra puritanical.  He acquired immense wealth of Hindu religious institutions by confiscating their lands and treasuries.  Aurangzeb razed temples his great grandfather Akbar had helped raise.  He destroyed the famous temples of Vishwanath in Varanasi (Kashi) and Keshavrai in Mathur, raising mosques in their sacred precincts.  Hindu Pilgrim centers across the Mughal empire suffered horribly as temples and religious institutions were torn down and Brahmins were killed or forcefully converted.  Tax on non-muslims was revived and Hindus were forced to live like 3rd class citizens in their own country. 


Aurangzeb imprisoned his own father and climbed on the corpses of his male relatives to sit on the Mughal throne.  Kingship knows no kinship, but Aurangzeb took that to an extreme, killing and imprisoning his own children on the slightest suspicion of treason.  In his puritanical zeal, Aurangzeb banned music and dance from the royal palace.  Hundreds of artists migrated to other parts of India, founding new schools of dance, music and arts in kingdoms that offered them refuge.  In his desire to expand his kingdom, he spent much of his life in army camps, forever fighting one foe or another.  The Marathas sapped his energy and drained his treasury with constant war.   


Aurangzeb’s long and harsh misrule of 49 years was a re-run of early advent of Islam in India when temples and places of learning were indiscriminately destroyed.  Even centuries later, to this day, Hindus still remember Aurangzeb as the cruelest of all Mughal rulers.  Like his life, Aurangzeb's grave lacks luster or charm.  As prescribed in the Koran, it is a bare patch of earth, open to the elements.  During the British Raj, a Hindu ruler erected stone screens to afford him some privacy and dignity around his grave. 


In his zeal to establish Islam in India, Aurangzeb destroyed the fragile infrastructure of relationships and diplomacy that had supported his dynasty for so long.  Rajputs were at last convinced that despite several generations of marital alliance and martial service in the Mughal army, they will always be second class citizens in the empire.  Slowly but surely they began to withdraw their support from the Mughals.  Hindu soldiers were also shocked by the Emperor's casual disregard for their religious feelings and many left his services.  With his treasury drained by constant wars, Aurangzeb left his empire in a more precarious state than he found it.    


Later Mughal rulers were of little consequence and their grip on power was tenacious at best.  Delhi and Agra were looted by Maratha, Jat, Sikh, Afghan and Persian troops.  In 1739, only 32 years after the death of Aurangzeb, Nadir Shah raided the Mughal Imperial treasury at will and took away the fabulous peacock throne, Kohinoor and Daryenoor diamonds.  His train of horses, camels and elephants stretched for several miles as he took his loot back to Persia (Iran).  The loot was so profitable, he could afford to not to tax his citizens for three years!!!


Princes, some Mughal in just name, continued to rule from Dehli and Agra in ever decreasing circles of influence.  They were still nominally called 'Emperor' but lacked any real power to make their rule felt outside their harem.  By now Hindus and Muslims had learned to live in relative harmony.  Hindu revival under Jats and Rajputs in 18th and 19th Century resulted in reconstruction of temples and revival in the fortunes of Hindu pilgrimage centers, especially in the North.   Evidence of this can be seen in temple towns like Mathura where the oldest temples only date back to mid 18th century.  Sikhs had their own Empire in Pujab and what is now Pakistan.


In 1857, Hindu and Muslim soldiers in the 'Company Army' rebelled against the British for supposedly trying to convert them by covert means.  Bahadur Shah II Zafar (1837-57), who was neither brave nor victorious, was nominally made their leader and lost his empire as a result.  Extricated from his hiding place in the tomb of Humayun, founder of the dynasty, the last Mughal saw his sons and grandson executed at the Khuni Darwaza.  In a trial that lasted 40 days, the last Mughal emperor, Bhadur Shah II Zafar was found guilty of treason by the British East India Company, a corporate institution that once begged the Great Mughal to allow them to trade in it's territories.  He died rather pathetically in Rangoon, as an exiled captive of the British in 1862.  With him died 300 years of the Mughal rule. 


Curiously, the 'mutiny', or 1st war of Independance, depending on your view, ended the rule of the Mughals as well as the 'Company' as the British Government took over the rule of British East India Company's Indian territories.  The British Empire lasted further 90 years before India became an Independent republic on 15th of August, 1947.. 



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