The First Battle (Panipat)
Zahir-ud-din Muhammad—better known as Babar or “the Tiger” was born on 14 February 1483, prince of Fergana in Transoxiana (modern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), scion of a dynasty that reigned in eastern Iran and Central Asia, and was descended from Amir Timur (c. 1336–1405) on his father’s side and Genghis Khan (1167–1227), the famed Mongol ruler, on his mother’s. He occupied the throne of Samarqand at twelve, although the following decades were to see him lose and recapture this throne and several other kingdoms, including Kabul, on several occasions. Though a Sunni Muslim, he became, from his thirties, addicted to drink. His political philosophy was dictated by a driving ambition that saw him move due south and east to the Indian subcontinent. Babur was an excellent military commander, being a keen archer, horseman, and swimmer, as well as a cultured monarch and a lover of music, nature, gardens, and poetry. He wrote The Baburnama, considered to be the first autobiography in Islamic literature, a book that provides us with an official chronicle as well as an intimate personal memoir.
Despite his generosity and nobility of character, the savage Mongol nature peeps out from Babar sometimes. For example, he cut off the heads of chiefs, and sent them to Kabul as trophies of victory. A pyramid of skulls was built near an ill-fated fortress at Bajaur. Later, in India, when an attempt was made to poison him, the emperor took a bloody revenge: the taster was cut to pieces, the cook flayed alive, a woman trampled under the elephants, another woman shot. Cultured in the humanities, Babar sometimes forgot to be humane. This Mongol savagery holds true for all later Emperors of Mughal India.
Ibrahim Lodi was one of the ruler of the Lodi dynasty who became the last Sultan of the Delhi Sultanate in India. He was an Afghan (specifically of the Ghilzai tribe of Pashtuns) who ruled over much of India from 1517 to 1526. Lodi attained the throne upon the death of his father, Sikandar Lodi, but was not blessed with the same ruling capability. He faced a number of rebellions. The Mewar ruler Rana Sanga extended his empire right up to western Uttar Pradesh and threatened to attack Agra. There was rebellion in the East also. Lodi also displeased the nobility when he replaced old and senior commanders by younger ones who were loyal to him. He was feared and loathed by his subjects. His Afghan nobility (his uncle Daulat Khan) eventually invited Babur of Kabul to invade India. Ibrahim died in the Battle of Panipat, where Babur’s superior fighters and the desertion of many of Lodi’s Indian soldiers led to his downfall, despite superior troop numbers.
The decisive battle was fought on April 21st, 1526 on the plain at Panipat. Babar collected seven hundred gun-carts, and formed a laager by linking them together with twisted bull hides, to break the cavalry charge, and by arranging hurdles or shields (tura) between each pair to protect the matchlockmen. On the 20th of April a night surprise was attempted upon the enemy’s position, and though it failed, owing to the confusion of the troops in the darkness, it had the effect of drawing the enemy out of his camp. Sultan Ibrahim, elated by the ease with which this attack has been driven back, brought his army out at the dawn on the 21st in battle array. The moment Babar detected the movement of the enemy, his men were ordered to put on their helmets and mail and take up their stations. His army was drawn up behind the laager in the usual order, right and left centre, right and left-wing, advance guard, and reserve; but in addition he had placed flanking parties of Mongols on the extreme right and left, with orders to execute their famous national manoeuvre, the tulughma-the rapid wheel, charging the enemy’s rear.
The army of Delhi came straight on, at a quick march without a halt from the start. They seemed to be aiming at Babar’s right, and he went up the reserve to its support. As the enemy came up to the ditches, abatis and hurdles, they hesitated, and the pressure of the troops behind threw them into some confusion. Taking advantage of this confusion, Babar sent out his Mongol flankers through the gaps in the laager, and they galloped round the enemy and poured their arrows into the rear. Meanwhile the right was also hard pressed, and Babar sent forward his right centre to their assistance. The master gunner, Ustad ‘Ali made pretty practice with his feringi (cannon) pieces, in front of the line and was admirably seconded by Mustafa, the cannoneer on the left centre. The enemy was now entangled by all sides, front, flanks, and rear; and their charges, which seemed ineffective to men who have stood up to the Mongols, swoon, were easily repulsed and driven back to their centre, which was already too crowded to be able to use its strength. In this jammed confusion they lay at the mercy of the hardy Turks and Mongols, who fell upon the strangled ranks with deadly effect. By noon the great army of the king of Delhi was broken and flying for dear life. Sultan Ibrahim himself lay stark on the field, amidst some 15,000 of his dead. They brought his head to Babar, and prisoners, elephants, and spoil of all sorts began to come in from the pursuers. Two detachments were at once sent to Delhi and Agra, and on Friday, April 27, the public prayer was said in the mosque of the capital in the name of the new Emperor, Babar, the first ‘Great Mughal”.
The explanation of Sultan Ibrahim’s defeat is no doubt to be found in the unpopularity of the Sultan himself, whose severity and avarice joined to military incapacity, fostered treachery, or at least half-heartedness, among his troops. We read of no desertions, and many of his men fought to the death, but there must have been disaffection, as well as a want of confidence in their leader, to allow 100,000 well-armed troops to go down, break and run, before an army one-tenth their size! To the Afghans of Delhi the battle of Panipat was the ruin of their dominion and the end of their power.
The battlefield became an uncanny spot which no man cared to pass after dark. Wailings and groans and other supernatural sounds were heard there of nights, and the historian Badauni, a man of veracity in his way, crossing the haunted plain one night with some friends, heard the dreadful voices, and fell to repeating the holy names of God as a protection from the awful influences around him.
Babar was now king of Delhi, but not yet king of Hindustan, much less of India. Even the of the dominion of Delhi, which was then stretched from the Indus to Bihar and from Gwalior to the Himalayas, he was only nominally master. The people were hostile to the strangers of uncouth tongue, and each town and petty ruler prepared for obstinate resistance. For Babar now the only formidable rival left in Hindustan was, the great Rana Sanga of Chitor.
The Second Battle (Kanwaha)
Rana Sanga was the head of the Rajput principality of Chitor, now known as Udaipur, and the representative of a family which, by the universal consent of the Rajputs, is allowed pre-eminence among all Rajput tribes as the most ancient and the noblest. Like Babar, he had been educated in the school of adversity. After overcoming the many difficulties and dangers of his early life, when he at length mounted the throne he carried on successful wars with his neighbours on every side, and added largely to his hereditary dominions. From Sultan Mahmud Khilji, the king of Malwa-whom he defeated in battle, took prisoner, and honourably entertained in a spirit worthy of the best days of chivalry-he had wrested the wide and valuable provinces of Bhilsa, Sarangpur, Chanderi and Ranthambor. He was engaged in hostilities with Sultan Ibrahim of Delhi and twice had met the Sultan himself in pitched battles. Eighty thousand horse, seven Rajas of the highest rank, nie Raos, and 104 chieftains bearing the titles of Rawul and Rawut, with 500 war elephants followed him into the field. He exhibited at his death but the fragment of a warrior, 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 cannon-ball in another, while he counted eighty wounds from the sword or the lance on various parts of his body! And his rival, Babar, who loved in an enemy the qualities he himself possessed, pays him only just tribute of respect when he says that the high eminence he then held he had attained but recently by his valour and his sword.
The two men belonged to widely different races Babar, the Turko-Mongolian of Western Tartary, Sanga, the pure Aryan of the East: but each recognized his rival’s greatness.
There is neither East nor West,
Border nor Breed nor birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
Tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.
It was on Saturday, March 16, 1527 that the two armies met at Kanwaha in pitched battle. Babar commanded the centre, assisted by his cousin Chin Timur, a son of Ahmad, the late Khan of Mogolistan. Humayun led the right, and the Emperor’s son-in-law, Mahdi Khwaja, the left. Among the minor commanders were a grandson of Sultan Hussain of Herat, and the Lodi Ala-ad-din, the claimant to the crown of Delhi, whom Babar still used as a figure-head, had his post. Of the number of the imperial troops there is no estimate, but the Rajputs were credited with over 200,000–probably a rough guess, based upon the known Rajput levies. But Rana Sanga evidently had a very powerful following. The chiefs of Bhilsa, rated at 30,000 horse, of Mewat, Dongarpur and Chanderi, with about 12000 each, brought the flower of Rajput chivalry at their backs. Mahmud Lodi, brother of the late Sultan Ibrahim, another claimant to the throne, had collected a body of 10,000 mercenaries to support his pretensions. Whatever the exact numbers, a more gallant army could not be brought into the field.
The battle began, about half-past nine in the morning, by a desperate charge made by the Rajputs on Babar’s right. Bodies of the reserve were pushed on to its assistance, and Mustafa Rumi, who commanded one portion of the artillery (and matchlocks) on the right of the centre, opened fire upon the assailants. Still, new bodies of the enemy poured on undauntedly, and new detachments from the reserve were sent to resist them. The battle was no less desperate on the left. When the battle had lasted for several hours, and still continued to rage, Babar sent orders to the flanking columns to wheel (famous tulughma) round and charge, and he soon after ordered the guns to advance, and by a simultaneous movement, the household troops and cavalry stationed behind the cannon were ordered to gallop out on right and left of the matchlock men in the centre, who also moved forward and continued their fire, hastening to fling themselves with all their fury on the enemy’s centre. Their centre was shaken, the men on the wings and rear were forced upon the centre and crowded together. Still the gallant Rajputs were not appalled. They made repeated desperate attacks on the emperor’s centre, in hopes of recovering the day, but were bravely and steadily received and swept away in great numbers. Ustad Ali’s huge cannon balls did fearful execution among the Rajputs. Towards the evening the confusion was complete, and the slaughter was consequently dreadful. The fate of the battle was decided. Nothing remained of the valiant Rajputs but to force their way through the bodies of the enemy that were now in their rear, and to effect a retreat. The victory was final, complete. The enemy fled in all directions, leaving multitudes of slain upon the fields and roads around. Many chiefs had fallen, and the heads of gallant Rajputs rose in the ghastly tower erected by the conqueror, who now took the title of Ghazi, or victor in the Holy War. As it was, the noble Sanga, himself escaped, though severely wounded, but from that day forth no Rana of his line ever took the field in person against an Emperor of b house. The battle of Panipat had utterly broken the power of the Muhammadan Afghans in India, the battle of Kanwaha crushed the great confederacy of the Hindus.
The Throne of Blood
Among the Mughals, the sabre decided succession. This enabled the fittest to survive and rule. Though the custom among the Turks and Mongols of Central Asia was to divide the kingdom among the sons of the monarch-with the throne and the main portion of the kingdom going to the eldest son, and the younger sons holding autonomous but subsidiary charge of their realms. In India Babur and Humayun divided their kingdom among their sons, but the question did not arise with Akbar, as Jahangir was the only son to survive him. On Jahangir’s death, the issue of division was preempted by Shah Jahan liquidating all rival claimants. So did Aurangzeb.
The struggle for power among the Mughals was not just between brothers, but at times between father and son. It was occupational hazard of the Mughal Emperor that he could not reign without forever looking over his shoulder to keep track of the movements of his brothers, cousins and sons. The Mughal motto as Emperor Jahangir once put it: “A king should deem no one his relation.”
When Adham Khan Akbar’s foster-brother (a pretender to the throne) tried to get into Akbar’s harem, the eunuch guarding the door locked the door from inside. Akbar emerged from another door to confront the assassin. Adham laid his hand on Akbar’s arm in an ambiguous gesture. Akbar punched him in the face which knocked Adham unconscious. Akbar then ordered him to be thrown over the parapet. The first fall failed to kill him, so the mangled body was heaved up again for a final drop to his death.
When Jahangir’s rebellious son Khusrau was brought before the emperor at a garden outside Lahore, there was nothing half-hearted about Jahangir’s retribution. The prince’s two colleagues were sewn into the wet skin of a newly slaughtered ox and ass, complete with head and ears and in this guise were seated on donkeys, facing the tails, and were paraded round the city all day. The effect of the hot sun was to dry and shrink the skins, and one of the two men died of constriction and suffocation. Khusrau himself was forced to ride an elephant along a street lined with stakes, on each of which one of his supporters was impaled alive. Later he gave orders for the blinding of Khusrau.
Of Shah Jahan’s four sons, the eldest, Dara, a brave and honourable prince, but disliked by the Muslims on account of his liberality of thought, had a natural right to the throne. Accordingly, on the illness of his father, he at once seized the reins of government and established himself at Delhi. The second son, Shuja, governor of Bengal, a dissolute and sensual prince, was dissatisfied, and raised an army to dispute the throne with Dara. The keen eye of Aurangzeb saw in this conjuncture of events a favorable opportunity for realising his own ambitious schemes. Shuja was defeated by Dara’s son, but the imperial forces under Jaswant Singh were completely routed by the united armies of Aurangzeb and Murad. Dara in person took the field against his brothers, but was defeated and compelled to fly. Aurangzeb then, by a clever stroke of policy, seized the person of his father, and threw him into confinement, in which he was kept for the remaining eight years of his life. Murad was soon removed by assassination. Dara, invaded Gujarat, was defeated and closely pursued, and was given up by the native chief with whom he had taken refuge. He was brought up to Delhi, exhibited to the people, and assassinated. Shuja, who had been a second time defeated near Allahabad, was attacked by the imperial forces under Mir Jumla and Mahommed, Aurangzeb’s eldest son, who, however, deserted and joined his uncle. Shuja was defeated and fled to Arakan, where he perished; Mahommed was captured, thrown into the fortress of Gwalior, and died after seven years’ confinement.
Brothers in arms
The Tragedy of Prince Dara Shukoh
In April 1657 Shah Jahan returned to Delhi from his summer retreat Mukhlispur, some 160 kilometres from Delhi. But fell ill on 16th September 1657. “The emperor was attacked with serious illness in the form of stranguary, constipation and other sympathetic affections,” says Muhammad Salih Kambu. “Physicians tried all the remedies of their art, but in vain, for the disorder increased.”.
Manucci and Bernier both attribute Sha Jahan’s illness to the use of an astringent aphrodisiac. “Sha Jahan brought this illness on himself,” says Manucci, “for being an old man…he wanted still to enjoy like a youth, and with this intent took different stimulating drugs.” His legs swelled up, fever rose. He was in great pain. For a week he ate nothing, and as he grew weak, his life was despaired for. He was now sixty five years old and had already lived longer than any Mughal emperor before him
As the emperor disappeared from sight, the rumour that he was dead-poisoned by Dara, some said-raged through Delhi like wild fire, spreading panic. Merchant closed their shops, fearing riots. “The confusion lasted in the city for three days and three nights,” says Manucci. Then, as the rumour spread to the provinces, the brittle web of royal authority that bound the empire together began to crumble. Frontiers were violated. Farmers resisted revenue collection; zemindars fought with each other and with imperial officers; and brigands, ever lurking in the shadows, emerged rampaging. Sha Jahan remained bed ridden for another month, but gradually, on a diet of “mint and manna” soup, he was able to move about. He then moved to Agra. Travelling down the Yamuna river in the royal barge, as physicians had recommended a change of air. By mid-November, nursed by Dara and emperor’s beloved daughter, Jahanara, Sha Jahan fully recovered his health. But Sha Jahan would never recover power. Though he would live for another nine years, it was the end for him. Before Shah Jahan left Delhi for Agra, he had formally nominated Dara Shukoh as his successor, and had commanded the amirs to obey him as their sovereign. Dara had long been groomed to succeed Shah Jahan, and was always kept at the court to familiarize him with imperial administration. Conferred the grand title Sha-I-Buland-Iqbal (Lord of the lofty fortune), he had the exclusive privilege of sitting in the durbar hall , in a gold chair just below the imperial throne.
His rank as commander of 40,000, with an annual pay of fifteen million rupees, was unprecedented and well above that of the other princes. In September 1657, during Shah Jahan’s illness, Dara’s rank was raised to 50,000, and in December raised again to 60,000 with a pay of twenty million rupees. Dara was a popular prince. He was genial, and Sha Jahan loved his company. Dara, complains Aurangzeb, won Sha Jahan’s favour by “flattery, smoothness of tongue and much and much laughing.” Says Manucci: “Dara was man of dignified manners, of gracious speech, of most extraordinary liberality, kindly and compassionate.” Confirms Bernier: Dara “was courteous in conversation, quick at repartee, polite and extremely liberal.” But Dara’s fatal flaw was pride. “He entertained too exalted an opinion of himself,” says Bernier, “believed he could accomplish everything by the power of own mind, and imagined that there existed no man from whose counsel he could derive benefit.” Dara ha mocking tongue. “If Dara had a failing, it was not to conciliate the great nobles and win them over to be his friends,” writes Manucci. He “scorned the nobles, both in word and deed, making no account of them…..He ordered his buffoons several times to imitate the gait and gestures of……Mir Jumla, making mock of him.” The amirs were thus alienated. This immensely hurt his fortune. An equally severe disability was Dara’s heterodoxy.
Aurangzeb’s partisans in fact accused him of being an apostate. Mirza Muhammad Kasim, Aurangzeb’s official chronicler , charges that Dara went beyond mere heresy to a definite partiality to Hinduism. Dara studied the Talmud, the New Testament, the Upanishads and the works of Sufis, and he endeavoured to find a common ground between different religions. He especially sought to reconcile Hinduism with Islam, and wrote a book-Majmua-ul-Baharain (Mingling of Two Oceans)-to propound his thesis . With help of Hindu pundits from Varanasi, Dara himself translated the Upanishads from Sanskrit into Persian, and maintained that the Upanishads were “without doubt or suspicion, the first of all heavenly books in point of time, the source of fountain of reality an ocean of monotheism in conformity with the Holy Koran and even a commentary thereon.” Such a view was not unusual for a liberal Muslim-Jahangir, for instance, had considered Vedanta as “the science of Sufism“-but from the point of view of the orthodox Muslim, it was an unpardonable heresy. As Kafi Khan saw it, Dara “had declared infidelity and Islam to be twin brothers and written treatises on this subject“. To make matters worse Dara damned mullahs with such remarks as that “Paradise is there where no mullah exists.” The mullahs, we assume did not reciprocate Dara’s scorn with love.
But Dara was not an apostate. “Born a Mahometan, he continued to join in the exercise of that religion,” states Bernier. Dara was a devotee of Mian Mir, a celebrated Muslim saint, and he even compiled a biography of Muslim saints, which he would not have done had he ceased to be a Muslim. He was however eclectic, and inclined to pantheism. He wrote.
We have not seen an atom separate from the Sun,
Every drop of water is the sea in itself,
With what name should one call the Truth ?
Every name that exists is one of God’s names.
We do not know what dreams Dara had for the empire, but they certainly would not have been the same as the dreams of Aurangzeb. India was at the crossroads in the mid-seventeenth century, it had the potential of moving forward with Dara, or turning back to medievalism with Aurangzeb. And India’s destiny was with Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb and Dara despised and hated each other, Aurangzeb venomously, Dara with aesthete’s delicate revulsion. Aurangzeb, says Bernier, was “devoid of that urbanity and engaging presence, so much admired in Dara, but he possessed a sounder judgement and was skilful in selecting ……his confidants.” He was a consummate schemer, cold-blooded and ruthless, a self-righteous hypocrite who cunningly melded high principles with low practices. His will to win was indomitable, almost insane. While Dara engulfed himself in culture, Aurangzeb sharpened his sword. His sword Aurangzeb claimed, was the fiery sword of Islam against Dara’s diabolic heresy. While Dara contemptuously called Aurangzeb a Nemazi, bigot, Aurangzeb damned Dara as a Mulahid, infidel. According to Manucci when Aurangzeb was born an astrologer had warned that the child boded ill for emperor Sha Jahan and his line. Perhaps this may have prejudiced Sha Jahan. His affinity was for Dara. “Aurangzeb knew that his father put no faith in him, and did not love him,” says Manucci. Aurangzeb would never forgive Shah Jahan for not loving him-or forgive Dara, for appropriating all their father’s love. Aurangzeb and Dara were the main contenders for the throne, and there was something portentous about their contest, involving issues far greater than those of their own lives and ambitions. The fate of the empire, the future of India. The motivations of other princes were simpler: they merely wanted to occupy the throne. They moved first. Shah Shuja declared himself emperor in his province of Bengal and began marching towards Agra. Prince Murad hastened to join Dara. Such then was the principal cast of this the most traumatic drama in Mughal history. To Aurangzeb Dara was not just and adversary in the power struggle, but the very embodiment of evil, and the fight against him not a mere succession feud, but a holy war.
Dara sent his eldest son Suleiman Shukoh with an army of 20,000 cavalry and 200 musketeers. On February 24, 1658 about 550 kilometres from Agra, in an early morning surprise attack Suleiman scattered the Bengal army and drove Shuja eastwards, chasing him as far as Munger, some 350 kilometres further east. But this ten week chase proved fatal as it made it impossible to for Suleiman to return in time to be with his father in the crucial battle with Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb set out from Aurangabad on 15th February 1658 on his quest for the throne. On 28th March, he reached Burhanpur. On March 3oth he advanced from Burhanpur with an army of some 30,000 veterans, including some Maratha contingents and Mir Jumla’s train of artillery manned by European gunners. On 28th April he was joined by Murad at the Dipalpur lake. Together they pushed towards Ujjain to give battle to the army sent by Dara to block their advances. The opposing forces was fairly evenly matched, numbering about 35,000 men each, though Aurangzeb had a marginal superiority, because of his greater fire power. On 25th April, a couple of hours after sunrise the battle began. At one point, a fierce surge Rajput charge rammed through Aurangzeb’s artillery line and tore into his van, very nearly routing his army. If Kasim Khan had then advanced to support the Rajput surge, the momentum could probably have carried the imperialists to victory. But Kasim Khan stood idly by, probably with treachery in his heart. Still the battle raged for some eight hours, in the end the imperial army fled the Rajput as well as Muslim contingents, leaving behind some 6,000 dead. Most of them Rajputs.
With the news of the debacle Dara, on 28th, May 1658, at an auspicious hour set out from Agra with his army to oppose Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb arrived at Samogarh, on 7th June, with an army that had swelled to about 50,000. As soon as Aurangzeb was sighted, Dara drew up his forces and advanced as if to give battle right away. That would have been the right decision, for Aurangzeb’s army was exhausted from a long march and his guns were were not in position. Inexplicably, after advancing a short distance, with Aurangzeb just couple of kilometres away, Dara halted. So did Aurangzeb. On 8th June, at nine Dara greeted Aurangzeb with artillery. But the armies were well beyond range. Then suddenly Dara’s left wing exploded into action. With a wild war hoop, some 10,000 braves under Sipir Shukoh, Dara’s teenage son, and Rustam Khan Dakhini, a legendary warrior, galloped out of the curtain of smoke and swooped down on Aurangzeb’s artillery in front of them. Unable to hold position against constant fire they swerved right and tore into Aurangzeb’s van, mauling it badly. In the meantime, under the command of Rajput Chatra Sal Hada tore into Murad on Aurangzeb’s left and scattered the forces. As Aurangzeb from the centre hastened to aid Murad, the Rajputs, still on high adrenaline , swung on him. Raja Rup Singh Rathor, says Kafi Khan “sprang from his horse, and, with the greatest daring , cut his way through the ranks of his enemies sword in hand, cast himself under the elephant of prince Aurangzeb was riding, and began to cut the girths which secured the howdah“. For a moment Aurangzeb was in mortal danger, then his guards cut down Raja Rup Singh.
Mean while Dara with some 20,000 cavalry advanced from his position at the centre. He angled to his left, presumably to support Rustam Khan, but was met with formidable fire from the enemy. He then commanded his own artillery to move up, but it could not, because says, Manucci “the barbers, butchers and the rest turned right-about face, abandoning the artillerymen and the guns. Many made for the baggage train to plunder it“. Dara was moving in to kill. But he halted. “Owing to the difficulties of the ground, and to the fatigue that overcame him” says Manucci. But in halting he lost momentum. And gave time to Aurangzeb to regroup his scattered ranks .
“Dara became distracted and irresolute, and knew not what to do,” according to Kafi Khan. But the day was not lost yet. Dara, set on Aurangzeb’s van and right wing, and under heavy fire, “failed not at all in what that is expected of valiant general,” says Manucci. He was however an easy target on his lofty elephant, so when a rocket hit his howdah, one of his generals(” the traitor Khalilullah Khan,”) who had been bought off by Aurangzeb, (states Manucci and Ishwar Das) called out to him to dismount from the elephant. Dara then got down hastily, “without even waiting to put on his slippers, and he then without arms mounted a horse“, says Kafi Khan. This was the decisive moment. There was panic in the air. “This was as if he had quitted victory“, observes Manucci. Dara’s empty howdah-Aurangzeb and Murad were on their elephants for all to see, but not Dara-was interpreted by his army to mean that he had fallen. A sudden victory flourish, opportunistically sounded by Aurangzeb’s band, confirmed the alarm of Dara’s army. At this moment, records Aqil Khan Razi, a searing hot wind rose from Aurangzeb’s position and struck Dara’s army in the face. The imperial army then fled. In a moment all was lost. One of Dara’s attendants then caught hold of the bridle of his horse and turned away from the fight. The battle lasted barely three hours. It began at around nine in the morning, and by noon all was over. Dara lost some 10,0oo men.
Fleeing from the battle filed Dara headed towards Agra. He reached the city by about nine in the night. In the imperial harem, women wailed. Shah Jahan tried to console Dara. But Dara was too ashamed to meet him. He wrote to Shah Jahan, “I have not the face to appear before Your Majesty in my wretched plight. Then, again, if I stay here longer, the troops of death will encircle and slay me…I beg you to pronounce the benediction of farewell on this distracted and half-dead man in the long journey that he has before him.” Dara quickly gathered his family-his wife Nadira Banu, his children and grandchildren -and in the dead of night fled towards Delhi with just a handful of followers. First he fled to Delhi from there he moved to Lahore. From Lahore he moved to Multan then to Thatta in Sind. Crossing the Indus, Dara headed and toiling through the forbidding, Rann of Kutch and well received by local chiefs eager for a Mughal connection. He reached Ahamad Nagar, the capital of Gujarat, in January 1659. There he found favour with Shah Nawaz Khan, the governor, although he was Aurangzeb’s father-in-law, opened the provincial treasury for Dara and helped him to recruit and army of 22,000. Cannons were procured from Surat. In the meanwhile Aurangzeb was rapidly closing in on Dara. On 21st March, 1659, Aurangzeb arrived at Deorai,, near Ajmer and encamped three kilometres from Dara. Dara challenged Aurangzeb, relying on the promised support of Jaswant Singh of Marwar . The fickle Jaswant broke his word. Dara even sent his son Siphir to plead with the Raja, but to no avail. The battle was joined the next day. Unlike Samogarh, the battle raged for three days. But Aurangzeb broke through Dara’s defences breaching the wall of a fortress. Dara, did not delay any further. Even while the battle was raging, he fled in the dark of the night, accompanied by his fifteen year old son Siphir Shukoh and a small band of followers. Aurangzeb would not let Dara escape. Immediately after the battle, he sent Raja Jai Singh and Bahadur Khan after Dara, and they were joined by Jaswant Singh. Local chiefs along Dara’s path were alerted and urged to arrest the fugitive. Dara’s only thought was now to save himself and his family from destruction. He was planning to escape to Kabul. On the way to Bolan Pass his good wife Nadira passed away – shed died of dysentery and vexation. Nadira’s death finally broke Dara’s will to fight even to live, “mountain after mountain of trouble thus pressed upon the heart of Dara, grief was added to grief, sorrow to sorrow, so that his mind no longer retained its equilibrium“, write Kafi Khan. Nadira was buried in Lahore in the tomb of Mian Mir.
Dara was now entirely without a military escort. Only a few eunuchs and servants with him. As Dara needed some rest at Dadar, a mere fourteen kilometres from east of Bolan Pass and safety, Dara sought a moment’s respite with an Afghan tribal chieftain named Malik Jiwan. Dara had good reason to expect hospitality from Malik, for Malik owed his very life to Dara, who had once interceded to save him after Shah Jahan had ordered him to trampled to death by an elephant, for an offence against the state. Malik Jiwan invited Dara, his son Siphir and three daughters into the fort. On 19th June Dara began the short trek towards the Bolan Pass. There was no haste now. Safety was close at hand. But so was Malik. Tribal honour would not permit Malik to molest Dara as long as he was his guest, but once Dara left his fort, he was fair game for the predator. Dara was a limp pray. Dara and his small family was again taken back to the fort but this time as prisoners by Malik Jiwan. Three months later, on 2nd September, Bahadur Khan arrived with the prisoners in Delhi. A week later, on 8th September, on Aurangzeb’s specific orders, Dara and Siphir were paraded through Delhi in a open howdah mounted on a filthy, small and mangy female elephant. Broken and weary, “like a crushed twig,” Dara sat limply, dressed in rags, a dingy turban on his head, his feet chained. Siphir sat beside him, and right behind them Aurangzeb’s slave Nazir Beg, with a drawn sword, threatening instant death to the princes in case of a rescue effort. Squadrons of cavalry and mounted archers at the ready, led by Bahadur Khan, escorted the prisoners. It was says Manucci, ” a melancholy spectacle, creating compassion in all those who saw him. For in such a brief space was this prince, so mighty, so rich, so famous, so powerful, reduced to the last stages of misery“. Adds Bernier, “The crowd assembled upon this disgraceful occasion was immense, and everywhere I observed the people weeping, and lamenting the fate of Dara in the most touching language….From every quarter I heard piercing shrieks, for the Indian people have a very tender heart. Men, women and children wailing as if some mighty calamity had happened to themselves“.
The next day there was riot in the city. When Malik Jiwan-now dignified as Bakhtiyar Khan, a mansabdar of 1,000-with his escort of Afghans was strutting through the city on his way to attend the imperial durbar, he was set on by the mob. Writes Kafi Khan, “Jiwan was protected by shields held over his head, and he at length mad his way through the crowd to the palace. They say that the disturbance on this day was so great that it bordered on rebellion….ashes and pots of full urine and ordure were thrown down from the roofs of the houses upon the heads of the Afghans…..”. On the evening of the day Dara was paraded through Delhi, his fate was debated in the Diwan-I-Khas. Death was the judgment. On learning of the death decree, Dara made a direct appeal and prayed to Aurangzeb to save his life. Aurangzeb did not want Dara’s prayers. On the margin od Dara’s petition he wrote in his own hand: “You first acted as usurper, and you were a mischief maker“. On 9th September, a party of slaves entered Dara’s prison house at Khizirabad a suburb of Delhi. At about seven in the night to carry out he execution. Siphir Shukoh, who was with Dara, wailed and clung to his father, but was torn away and taken to another room, where he continued to cry out. Dara appealed to the slaves to take a message to Aurangzeb, but they replied, “We cannot be anybody’s messenger. We have only to carry out our orders.” Dara then, in a futile gesture, attacked the slaves with a tiny dagger he had hidden under his pillow, but was overpowered and stabbed to death. They then hacked off his head and took it to Aurangzeb for verification.
The issue in the war of succession was not who should rule the empire, but what should be the future of India. Dara’s promise was of a humane, progressive future. When he was executed, what was involved was not just the death of a prince, but the death of a future. At the beginning of the war of succession, Father Buzeo, an European padre in Agra, had confidently predicted that Dara, despite all his advantages, would be destroyed. The reason ? “The people of Hindustan“, said the padre to Manucci “are very malicious…[and] such a race required to be ruled by a more malignant king, not by a good-natured man like Dara.”
This probably is the unmarked grave of Dara Shukoh, on the south west corner platform of Humayun’s tomb in Delhi. Nobody is sure. Of course, in a way, these are pseudo-graves, since according to Islamic tradition, the body has to buried at ground level, in contact with the ground, in a simple cotton shroud (not a coffin), and without any name on the grave. So, with the platform of Humayun’s tomb being a good 40 feet above ground level, the actual earthen grave must be exactly below where the marble sarcophagus stands. And since there are no names, in the absence of a DNA test, only oral traditions and legend can point out specific graves within reasonable limits of
“Three things oppressed us in Hindustan, its heat, its violent winds, its dust” — Babar. “Sometimes it got so extremely hot that the very brain boiled in the cranium” — Historian Badauni. “My parched and withered body has become a mere sieve, the quart of water which I swallow at a draught, passing at the same moment through every one of my pores, even by the end of my fingers”– Travller Bernier. The summer heat was made worst by dust storms. “It gets up in great strength every year in the heats..when the rains are near” –Babar. The heat was not just physical discomfort, it sapped energy and desiccated the spirit. “The excessive heat makes a man powerless, takes away his desire for food, and limits him to water drinking, which weakens or debilitates the body”–Pelsaert. The monsoon brought some relief. “The climate during the rains is very pleasant”–Babar. If men did not thrive in the tropical climate, vermin did. “The aboundance of flyes in those parts doe…much annoy us, for in the heate of the day their numberlesse number. They are ready to cover our meate as soon as it is placed on the table. And in their great cities there are such aboundance of bigge hungry rats that they often bite a man as he lyeth on his bed” — Edward Terry.
The most remarkable fact about India for the Mughals was the sheer multitude of people. It astounded Babar. Moreland estimates that the total population of India in 1600 was 100 million, while Kingsley Davis gives a figure of 125 million, and Irfan Habib of 142 million. What about the villages of India? We have a fair estimate from one of Akbar’s officers Nizamuddin Ahmad, according to him, the Moghul Empire in his time had 120 large cities and 3200 townships (qasbas), each controlling about 100 to 1000 villages. According to another source, Aurangzeb’s Empire (except Bijapur & Golconda) had over 400,00 villages. “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 ingenuity or mechanical invention in planning or executing their handicrafts..They have no good horses, no good flesh, no grapes no musk-melons, no good fruits, no ice or cold water, no good food or bread in the bazaars, no baths or colleges, or candles or torches–never a candle stick!” — Babar. He might have modified his sweeping condemnation if he had lived longer in India and seen more of its races, and indeed he does admit that there are advantages even in India, for example, in the abundance of workmen of all trades, and that the climate during the rainy season is very pleasant.
Though the Mughals had imposed on the subcontinent such political unity as has never existed and had given it uniformity of administrative system, court culture, coinage and official language, there was no sense that the subjects of the Empire were one people. It was land, not people, that made up the state and frontiers, indefinite and ever shifting, were always porous. There was an Indian empire, there was no Indian nation! The people of one part of the subcontinent hardly knew those of the other parts, and had little in common with them. They spoke different languages, worshipped different gods, had different social systems. Only in the thin top crust of the society, among Brahmins and the Persianized Muslim aristocracy, were there very weak pan-Indian linkages.
In Mughal India, or indeed the whole of eastern Muslim world, had a natural aristocracy, they were Persians. Everyone looked up to Persians, and Persians always looked down on everyone! Persian was the Mughal court language, Persian culture was the Mughal court culture. Apart from their assumed superior culture, the fair skin of the Persians also helped to establish their superior status-a bias for the fair complexion was part of the Indian psyche and in Mughal India, in popular perception, all fair-skinned Muslim immigrants were viewed as Mughals and therefore as masters.
The Mughal age was not good for the peasants. It was ruinous for peasants, because of the laxity and corruption of the administration and the ruthless exploitation of the jagirdars! The jagirdar had no permanent interest in the land assigned to him. His only concern was to squeeze as much out of the land as quickly as possible, before his jagir was transferred to someone else. He was therefore savagely oppressive towards the peasants. “Imperial officers routinely took from them all they can get by labour, leaving them nothing, but their bad, mud-walled, ill-thatched covered houses and a few cattle to till the ground, besides other miseries,” says Peter Mundy. The peasant had no incentive to expand cultivation for whatever extra he produced was seized by officers on some pretext or other. The tyranny says Bernier, was “often so excessive as to deprive the peasant and artisan of the necessaries of life, and leave them to die of misery and exhaustion“. The lot of peasantsin mughal India was pathetic and sometimes, unable to bear oppression and adversity, he fled from the land. Records during Aurangzeb’s reign indicate a scarcity of cultivators and a decline in agricultural production. ‘Some peasants abscond to escape their tyranny, and take refuge with Rajas who are in rebellion, and consequently the fields lie empty and unswon and grow into wilderness’ wrote Pelsaert.
The position of the artisans in Mughal India was not very much different from that of the peasants, he too was crippled by the same oppressions, yoked to the same flaccid values, blindly grinding on in the same old rut as his ancestors had in ages past. His caste and karma alloted to him a particular lot, and he accepted it with abject passivity.
Under Akbar, a noble of the highest rank (commander of 50,000, first class) drew a monthly salary of Rs.30,000, but spent no more than Rs.10,600 on the regiment he had to maintain. The amir thus had a minimum net monthly personal income of more than Rs.18,000 – equivalent of about Rs. 1.26 million in modern currency. Satish Chandra, an authority on Mughal India, writes “The Moghul nobles received salaries which were probably the highest in the world at that time“. Moreover, the amirs, obtained large sums by way of presents and bribes from all kinds of quasi legal and illegal exactions.Yet for all their immense wealth and power the amirs were not hereditary landed aristocrats, but were merely officials, who held office entirely at the will and pleasure of the Emperor. No amir could bequeath his official title, rank or jagir to his heir. The Mughal amirs could not even save on their incomes and leave legacies for their children, for everything belonged to the Emperor. Even when sons were allowed to inherit the wealth of their parents, it was usually conferred on them by the Emperor at his own pleasure, as a favour.
Hypocracy was the rule of the day. At the imperial court, Bernier writes, “base and disgusting adulation….is invariably witnessed….whenever a word escapes the lips of the King, if at all to the purpose, how trifling soever may be its import, it is immediately caught by the surrounding throng, and the chief Omrahs, extending their arms towards heaven, as if to receive benediction, exclaim, Karamat! Karamat! Wonderful! Wonderful!“
Impulse ruled the amir. Grand gestures were his style. He spent huge sums on singers and dancers, and offered fabulous presents to the officers above him and to the Emperor(though out of necessity). The amirs spent recklessly on family celebrations as childbirth, the shaving of an infants hair, circumcisions, marriages etc., Invariably the amirs were broke. Such were the improvidence of the amirs that Akbar found it necessary to introduce a system of advancing them money from the treasury, on interest.
The women in Mughal India were mere appendages in a male dominated society. They had no life of their own. Even at the lowest level, their life was bleaker than that of men. Wretchedly poor and undernourished, their health broken by frequent child bearing, weighed down by endless houehold chores that too in addition to working alongside their men in the felds, there was not much more to their lives than bare existence.
In the families of traders, artisans, and peasants in comfortable circumstances, things were easier for the housewife, for she had servants to do the chores, but her life too was empty of any real worth except of course child-bearing . ‘Their principal business is to tell stories and eat betel’ commented Manucci on middle-calss women of Mughal India. They had no cultural interests beyond their blind and routine devotions, had no social life outside the circle of their extended families, no role in society. The common women in Mughal India loved to brawl. It was their past time. Their word carried little or no importance. The Sharia, the Muslim customary law, alloted to daughters only half the share of parental property that was alloted to sons. The lives of Hindu women were still worse, because of the disabilities imposed on widows and the practice of sati. There were of course exceptions to all this. Mothers were generally revered by Hindus as well as Muslims. Even in the best of circumstances , the woman’s lot in Mughal India was grim. In this environment, it is no surprise that daughters were not favoured. Among the Rajputs, the birth of a daughter was considered a curse – if a woman gave birth to two successive daughters, she could even be divorced – and female infanticide was rampant. “When a daughter is born to a man without means, they put her to death by strangulation’, notes Jahangir in his memoirs. In some parts of India, unwanted babies were hung in a cloth cradle on a tree, where birds pecked at their eyes, says Tavernier; in Bengal, and presumably elsewhere too, if the child did not take the mother’s breast, it was exposed to death.