Beginnings of the British Empire in India and the Mughal open thread


by Rumbold
17th December, 2007 at 4:05 pm    

The first Englishmen to reach India did so during the reign of Akbar in the 16th century. They were few and far between, and of little significance in the grander scheme of things. It was not until the 17th century that the English really began to leave their imprint on India.

In December 1600 the English East India Company (EIC) was formed by a group of merchants hoping to take advantage of the new trade routes occasioned by the navigation of the horn of Africa. In the 15th century and previously, Indian goods had been carried by merchants through the Arab lands, and sold to the Venetians. The 16th century saw the Portuguese dominating European-Asian commerce, and the English looked with envy at the rich spices brought back from the east. With the blessing of Queen Elizabeth, the EIC was born. These initial steps took place under the eye of Elizabeth and Akbar, but it would be during the reigns of James I (ruled 1603-1625) and Jahangir (1605-1627) that Anglo-Mughal contact became something of a regular occurrence. Though the Mughals did not rule much of the south of India, the main English trading post was located at the Gujurati port of Surat, then under Mughal control. Until its decline and the rise of Bombay in the 1660s, it was the most important port on the west coast.

The EIC’s first official representative to the Mughal court at Agra, who docked at Surat in 1608, was one William Hawkins. Little is known about his past life, save that he spoke Turkish and had probably spent some time in the Levant. The former quality impressed Jahangir no end, as he too could speak Turkish. The Emperor was so cheered by this Englishman that he christened him Inglis Khan (the English Lord), because of the difficulty in pronouncing ‘William Hawkins’. Jahangir, wishing to bind Hawkins closer to him, offered the EIC man an Indian wife. Hawkins, recalling his Christian sensibilities, turned her down because “she was a More [Muslim]“, though he was persuaded to accept an Armenian Christian as his wife. Other notable Englishmen soon followed, including the first official royal ambassador to the Mughal court, Sir Thomas Roe.

Coming from a world where Protestants and Catholics were at each others’ throats all the time, the English found the religiously tolerant Mughal Empire strange and fascinating. One observed that both Hindus and Muslims worshipped the tomb of Abkar. Another praised the religious devotion of some Muslims, as “many amongft them, to the shame of vs Chriftians … pray fiue times every day.” Balochis, Pathans and Rajputs were classed as marital races, especially the Pathans, who “will look an enemy boldly in the face, and maintaine with their liues their reputation of valour.” Pathans were responsible for successfully defending Hawkins from numerous Portuguese assassination attempts. Many of the travellers admired the scenery, the way that Jahangir often dispensed justice like some sort of latter day Solomon, and most of all the imperial camp. When on a military campaign, the Mughals would travel in style. There would be two cities composed entirely of tents, each on replicating the opulent palace surroundings that the emperor was used to. The reason for there being a second tent city was so that one could be set up while the other was being packed a way and reassembled ahead, ensuring that the emperor would never have to suffer a diminution of his lifestyle. One English observer believed that the tents encompassed an area roughly the size of London, England’s largest city. An awe-inspiring sight, and site.

Nevertheless, the English were far from happy with the Mughal Empire, since it was not Christian and had all the excesses of the Orient that they had been warned about, such as houses with “walles and ceelings all over-laid with pure gold.” Jahangir himself had twenty wives, and, according to one account, 300 concubines. Quite where he found the time is unclear, as he was a noted workaholic. His justice, though swift, could sometimes be merciless. Two rebels, who had aided Jahangir’s eldest son Khusrau in rebellion (in which the Sikh Guru Arjun was executed for suspected treason), were sewn “into the skins of an ox and an ass … [then] mounted on asses with their faces to the tail and thus taken round the city.” The man enveloped in the ox-hide died when it dried and suffocated him. This incident is recorded in Jahangir’s own memoirs. A servant had his thumbs cut off for daring to cut down a tree which provided shade for one of Jahangir’s favourite benches. Roe complained to James I that the Mughal government “is so uncertaiyne, without written law, without policye, [and] the customs are mingled with barbarism.”

So far, this article has focused on what the English thought of the Mughals. This is not meant to be a Euro-centric approach, but rather an inevitable consequence of the weight of evidence. We have dozens of good English, Dutch and Portuguese accounts chronicling life at the Mughal court. In contrast, Jahangir’s memoirs, a hefty 800-900 page work, sees the English (and other Europeans) only mentioned a few times. They occasionally surface when they bring him presents, such as a coach, and once when their fleet defeats a Portuguese one. The only Englishmen ever mentioned by name was a craftsman who made Jahangir a throne, and who was given money, a horse, an elephant and a Persian name as a reward. Indeed, the appearance of a turkey at court (brought by a foreigner), garners more lines than all the mentions of the English put together. In broad strategic terms, the English mattered little. They were from a small island far away, had no army to speak of, and never endangered the existence of the Mughal state. Ambassadors were expected to prostrate themselves before Jahangir, though Roe managed to wrangle an exception. Of far more importance were the Persians to the west and the various kingdoms in the south of India. The Deccan would prove to be a key battleground. The Ottomans mattered little, as the Mongols, the Mughals’ ancestors, had beaten the Turks and so the Mughals looked down on those reprobates who claimed to be the heirs to the Caliphate. Mughal armies were huge, their treasure reserves massive, and Mughal forces were kept supplied throughout a campaign. Roe’s attempts at negotiating a treaty were dismissed out of hand.

Only at sea could the English hope to demonstrate their power. The Mughal Empire did not rely on the importation of essential goods, nor did they have a major sea-worthy enemy. This was why they never developed a proper navy. As a result, first the Portuguese, then the English and Dutch, were able to dominate the Mughal coast, and extract trading concessions from Jahangir. Other than that though, the English had little power at court. Their presents were constantly being trumped by better ones from the Portuguese and other factions, usually leading to a policy reversal to the detriment of the English. Roe was so enraged by all of this that he raged that “such is the faithlessness of their people, that no trust, no confidence, is to be had in them – what they grant to-day shall be revoked tomorrow.”

Alcohol frequently brought the two countries together, perhaps more than anything else. Jahangir had spent a number of years (before he took to the throne) drunk for most of the day. However, after a while he managed to curb his drinking, because he was ashamed that “the excessive trembling of my hand [meant] I could not drink from my own cup, but other had to give it to me to drink.” He managed to reduce his alcohol intake by eating opium every day (recorded in his memoirs). Many of the Mughals died from some sort of alcohol and/or opium poisoning. It is not hard to see why. The English naturally took to drinking sessions with Jahangir, cementing the bond of friendship, but occasionally things got out of hand, such as when drunken English sailors went on a rampage in Surat. One sailor even killed a calf, which was “worse than murther in India” moaned an English merchant. William Lesk, a clergyman, was one of the worst offenders, frequently brawling and drinking heavily. A prostitute arrived looking for Lesk, since Lesk had given her false coin “the day preceding at the brothel-house.” He was eventually deported by the EIC.

Wider English society was changed little by the EIC’s establishment. It was a large commercial operation admittedly, but not dominant, and most Indian goods were already available from Portuguese and Dutch suppliers. James I seemed many interested in extracting money from them in order to shower his lover, the duke of Buckingham, with gifts. There was little appetite for colonialisation in the East, with the English instead seeing North America as the place for that sort of thing. The EIC had even less impact on Jahangir. He got more presents, and more drunk, but that was about it. The English and Dutch simply replaced the Portuguese as the European traders at court. Of far more importance was the power struggle, involving his sons Khusrau and Khurram (the future Shah Jahan), Jahangir’s wife Nur Jahan and her brother Asaf Khan, and leading noble Mahabat Khan, who would eventually hold Jahangir hostage for a time. If you had told either James I or Jahangir that England would one day rule India they both would have laughed. Yet that is what happened. The signs were not there at the time, but with Surat and later Madras we see the beings of English power in India; fortified cities backed by a powerful navy. The British presence in India would only really begin become an empire thanks to Clive of Plassey in the 1750s-1760s, but some of the foundations for British rule were slowly emerging, even at the beginning of the 17th century.

(I wrote this a while ago, but was waiting for an appropriate time to publish it. As we needed a Mughal open thread this seemed as good a time as any. Today I also learned of the death of one of the greatest Mughal historians ever, J. F. Richards, who passed away in August. If any of you want a detailed, scholarly overview of the Mughals, read this book.)


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  1. Jai — on 17th December, 2007 at 4:14 pm  

    Rumbold,

    I can’t remember if you’d begun participating on PP yet at the time, but about a year ago I wrote an article here called “White Mughals and Brown Brits” as a guest blogger. It resulted in an excellent discussion. Please check it out in PP’s archives if you haven’t seen it already, I think you’ll find it interesting reading.

    Incidentally, a Bollywood film about Akbar and his wife Jodha is coming out soon, called (funnily enough) “Jodhaa Akbar”. Hrithik Roshan plays the Emperor and Aishwarya Rai plays the queen. I’ve seen some promos on B4U recently — it looks like exciting, large-scale stuff, especially for those of us who love the old movie “Mughal-e-Azam”. I’m really looking forward to it.

  2. Raul — on 17th December, 2007 at 5:53 pm  

    Hey Rumbold, that was an interesting read. I hope more is to follow.

  3. Rumbold — on 17th December, 2007 at 7:52 pm  

    Jai:

    http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/884

    Excellent piece. I did not read it the first time round (I think I was only reading Pickled Politics now and again at that point). If you wanted to write something along the same lines, just e-mail me:

    rumbold@pickledpolitics.com

    “Incidentally, a Bollywood film about Akbar and his wife Jodha is coming out soon, called (funnily enough) “Jodhaa Akbar”. Hrithik Roshan plays the Emperor and Aishwarya Rai plays the queen. I’ve seen some promos on B4U recently — it looks like exciting, large-scale stuff, especially for those of us who love the old movie “Mughal-e-Azam”. I’m really looking forward to it.”

    I had the same reaction when I saw the promos (in between adverts for phone companies- “don’t vorry Mom, I’m using Lycatalk). It looks amazing (as does the lass in those Lycatalk ads).

    Raul:

    “Hey Rumbold, that was an interesting read. I hope more is to follow.”

    Thanks very much. I had not planned to do anymore for the time being, as it was streching the meaning of ‘current affairs’ a bit, but I may develop some of the themes/stories at a later date.

  4. Desi Italiana — on 17th December, 2007 at 8:39 pm  

    Rumbold:

    “Though the Mughals did not rule much of the south of India, the main English trading post was located at the Gujurati port of Surat, then under Mughal control.”

    Gujarati, not GujUrati :)

    “Jahangir himself had twenty wives, and, according to one account, 300 concubines. Quite where he found the time is unclear, as he was a noted workaholic.”

    Oh, I am sure that with free lovin’ available, anyone could find the time ;)

  5. Sid — on 17th December, 2007 at 10:01 pm  

    Great Moments in Recent History in the form of Mughal miniatures.

    The Art of Saira Wasim

  6. Sunny — on 18th December, 2007 at 6:24 am  

    I wish I lived around Jahangir’s time :(

  7. Edsa — on 18th December, 2007 at 10:20 am  

    Rumbold, that was a fascinating account of the little known Jahangir’s period. I was amazed at the level of detail.
    English Queen Elizabeth didn’t merely ‘bless’ the EIC, she granted it a formal charter in 1600.
    [It’s also worth noting that an English bunch landed in North America in 1606, and set up a colony they called Virginia in Jamestown (named after their king).

    That the Mughal emperors kept records demonstrates their learning and culture and Jahangir’s 900-page journal was no mean feat.

    I was surprised to read that the Mughals were descended from the Mongols. I thought they were of Turkish origin, a segment of the Ottomans who went east.

    There is little mention of the natives of India – they seemed just passive spectators, occupied with subsistence agriculture and religious rituals.

    The action hots up in the 18th century with the arrival of the Shropshire mercenary Robert Clive and the Battle of Plessey (Palashi actually). In one stroke, the EIC netted a cool £2.5m (some £200m today) for the company, while Clive grabbed £234,000 (£20m) for himself.
    That’s why he had come to India in the first place – to make a fortune and utilise part of it as dowries for his sisters.

    Meanwhile in 1602 the Dutch consolidated their assorted companies into one, the Dutch East Company (VOC). About a decade later, the Danes formed theirs. They all had the same goal – to enrich themselves and their countries by looting the fabled wealth of the East.

  8. Ravi Naik — on 18th December, 2007 at 10:32 am  

    I was surprised to read that the Mughals were descended from the Mongols. I thought they were of Turkish origin, a segment of the Ottomans who went east.

    They were actually a mix of Mongols, Persians and Turkish.

  9. Rumbold — on 18th December, 2007 at 11:15 am  

    Desi Italiana:

    “Gujarati, not GujUrati.”

    I never know whether it is an ‘a’ or a ‘u’. Would putting in an ‘u’ be likely to offend people, or it is just more of a stylistic convention?

  10. Rumbold — on 18th December, 2007 at 11:20 am  

    Sid:

    Interesting link. Thanks.

    Edsa:

    “was surprised to read that the Mughals were descended from the Mongols. I thought they were of Turkish origin, a segment of the Ottomans who went east.”

    As Ravi says, they were a mixture of central Asian with a bit of Persian thrown in. They are best described as a Timurid dynasty, since they drew their legitimacy from Timur the Lame (Tamerlane).

    “There is little mention of the natives of India – they seemed just passive spectators, occupied with subsistence agriculture and religious rituals.”

    Histroy is also not helped by the silence of the lower classes themselves. Because printing was not neraly as widespread as it was in Europe, we never get too accurate a picture of what the great issues of the day were for the lower classes (apart from general ones like religion, food, wealth, community, war).

  11. Parvinder — on 18th December, 2007 at 11:29 am  

    Interesting piece Rumbold.
    We can look at Akbar’s reign as a breath of fresh air, his liberal outlook and tolerance towards all religions and atheists. It is no wonder that he is referred to as Akbar the Great. Although in Mughal-e-Azam – Prince Salim who is Jahangir, played by Dilip Kumar is the nice guy and Akbar is made out to be cruel. But that’s just bollywood.

  12. Rumbold — on 18th December, 2007 at 11:36 am  

    Parvinder:

    Thanks. Though you and other Sikhs will probably disagree, I would argue that Jahangir’s religious policies were, in general, superior to Akbar’s. Akbar’s policy was obviously the more noble (all religions are equal), but Jahangir managed bring the hardline Muslims back into the imperial camp, without compromising the high degree of religious freedom that the average Mughal subject enjoyed. Akbar’s disregard for Islam was causing a rupture with some Muslims, and Jahangir was able to appeal to these discontents while still ensuring freedom of conscience and worship for everyone else.

  13. Parvinder — on 18th December, 2007 at 11:54 am  

    ‘Though you and other Sikhs will probably disagree’
    - well surely any sane person would disagree, not just Sikhs ?

    ‘while still ensuring freedom of conscience and worship for everyone else’
    - I think many Hindus, Sikhs and Jains would differ.

    Lets look at who had Jahangir’s ear at the Lahore court.

    Sheikh Ahmed, the revivalist head of the Naqshbandi Sufis of Sirhind, who was of the opinion that ‘the glory of Islam consists in the humiliation of infidelity and the infidels.’
    Chandan Shah, a Brahmin in the service of the Mughal Court. He resented the independent ways of the Sikhs, seeing them a threat to the power of the upper class Brahmins.

    Guru Arjun Dev was produced in court on the charge of ‘having compiled a book which blasphemed the worship and rules of the Hindus and the prays and fasting of the Muhammadans.’

    Jahangir, writing in his memoirs, stated: ‘So many simple-minded Hindus, nay, even foolish Muslims too had been fascinated by the Guru’s ways and teachings. Many times the thought had been presenting itself to my mind that either I shall put an end to this false traffic, or that he be brought into the fold of Islam.’
    Quotes from Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri (memoirs of Jahangir), translated by Alexander Rogers, Delhi (1926), p72.

    The Guru was first tortured by being seated on a hot iron plate, whilst burning sand was poured over him and then drowned in a river. He became the 1st Sikh martyr and turned the hitherto peaceful Sikhs into a militant army, in opposition to both the Islamists and Brahmin orthodox.

  14. Rumbold — on 18th December, 2007 at 6:01 pm  

    Parvinder:

    “I think many Hindus, Sikhs and Jains would differ … Sheikh Ahmed, the revivalist head of the Naqshbandi Sufis of Sirhind, who was of the opinion that ‘the glory of Islam consists in the humiliation of infidelity and the infidels.’

    There were no persecutions of Hindus. There is a strange incident when Jahangir destroys a Hindu idol (Memoirs of Jahangir, Vol. 1, p. 254), but this is a one off. He recorded his awe when he met a Hindu holy man:

    “I had an interview with Jadrup, who is one of the austere ones of the Hindu religion … certainly association with him is a great privilege.”

    (Memoirs of Jahangir, Vol. 2, p.49).

    Or when he encountered some Brahmans:

    “On the 7th of the same month the camp was pitched at Hardwar on the bank of the Ganges. It is one of the most famous places of worship of the Hindus, and many brahmans and recluses have chosen a corner of retirement in this place and worship God according to the rule of their religion. I gave alms in cash and goods to each of them according to his requirements.”

    As for apparently favouring Shaikh Ahmad, this is what Jahangir had to say about him:

    “At this time it was reported to me that a Shayyad (a loud talker, a cheat) of the name of Shaikh Ahmad had spread the net of hypocrisy and deceit in Sirhind, and caught in it many of the apparent worshippers without spirituality [Jahangir then recounts Ahmad's claim that Ahmad had surpassed the first four Caliphs] … I according gave an order that they should bring him to the Court that is based on justice … [and then threw him in prison]“

    (Memoirs of Jahangir, Vol. 2, pp.91-92).

  15. Desi Italiana — on 18th December, 2007 at 6:11 pm  

    Rumbold:

    “I never know whether it is an ‘a’ or a ‘u’. Would putting in an ‘u’ be likely to offend people, or it is just more of a stylistic convention?”

    Oh, it’s nothing offensive; it’s just more accurate. If we were to transliterate from the Gujarati script, “Gujarat” would be GujArat. Not Guj-oo-rat.

  16. Jai — on 18th December, 2007 at 7:07 pm  

    It is no wonder that he is referred to as Akbar the Great. Although in Mughal-e-Azam – Prince Salim who is Jahangir, played by Dilip Kumar is the nice guy and Akbar is made out to be cruel. But that’s just bollywood.

    For those who like this sort of thing, I strongly recommend the “re-colourised” version of the movie which was released about 2 years ago. The songs have been polished up too (better sound quality etc). The film’s obviously a somewhat Bollywoodised version of the historical characters depicted, as Parvinder correctly mentioned, but it’s a fantastic movie in every aspect anyway — story, acting, casting, music, the works. One of my all-time favourites.

    (And try to watch it on the biggest widescreen/flatscreen TV you have access to; sometimes it’s obvious that the colourisation has been achieved artificially, but if you’ve already seen the original black & white version, a number of musical & dramatic segments in the new version will blow your socks off, just from the vividness of the colour and the quality of the detail in the costumes, jewellery and physical appearances of the actors/actresses depicted).

    Incidentally, for those who don’t know, there is a mausoleum in Lahore where the real Anarkali is supposedly buried. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarkali)

    Quote:

    “The building still enshrines a beautifully inscribed monolithic sarcophagus. On the sarcophagus are inscribed 99 names of Allah and the Persian couplet:

    تا قیامت شکر گویم کردگار خویش را
    آہ گر من باز بینم روئ یار خویش را

    tā qiyāmat shukr gūyam kardigāre khīsh rā
    āh! gar man bāz bīnam rūī yār-e khīsh rā

    I would give thanks unto my God unto the day of resurrection
    Ah! could I behold the face of my beloved once more

    On the northern side of the sarcophagus are inscribed the words “مجنون سلیم اکبر” (majnÅ«n Salim akbar, “the profoundly enamoured Salim (son of) Akbar”).”

    Romantic stuff, eh ;)

  17. Rumbold — on 18th December, 2007 at 7:18 pm  

    Parvinder:

    Sorry, I had to cut short my previous post. The examples were meant to illustrate that Jahangir, while not authorising a state with complete freedom of religion, created an environment where the average religious minority (i.e. those not of the state religion), had more freedom of conscience and worship to anywhere else in the world at that point.

    Desi Italiana:

    “Oh, it’s nothing offensive; it’s just more accurate. If we were to transliterate from the Gujarati script, “Gujarat” would be GujArat. Not Guj-oo-rat.”

    Atacha? (Not sure about spelling).

    Jai:

    Nice.

  18. Cover Drive — on 18th December, 2007 at 8:55 pm  

    Just like many British historians Rumbold you’ve covered the benevolent side of the Mughal period in romantic fashion.

    Why do people, especially in the West, regard the Mughal period as the greatest period of India’s civilisation? India was already a rich place before that. Isn’t that one of the main reasons why the Mughals invaded India? People also say that Mughal emperors encouraged religious freedom but those who benefited the most were the warrior, mercantile and trader classes. Eventually the peasants and artisans, who suffered high taxes under the Mughals, became radicalised and rebelled. If you look at South India, which had little Moghul influence, it has been far more religiously tolerant than North India and still is today.

    There’s nostalgia about the period including the military successes of Mughal emperors, how they developed trade with the rest of the world and their import of Central Asian and Persian influence into the sub-continent. The nostalgia subconsciously reinforces the view that in India all things great have come from outside; it also apologises for British colonial rule as though that was a continuation of Mughal rule but actually was completely ruthless and looted the country of its wealth.

  19. Jai — on 19th December, 2007 at 3:39 pm  

    If any of you want a detailed, scholarly overview of the Mughals, read this book.

    I’d also recommend the following:

    The Mughal Throne by Abraham Eraly

    and

    A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time — basically a very detailed biography of Shahjahan.

  20. Jai (message for Ravi Naik) — on 22nd December, 2007 at 1:26 pm  

    Hi Ravi,

    I thought it would be helpful to give you a few more pointers on sources of info for Mughal-era history, since you were asking about this on the HK thread. Apologies for the belated response.

    In addition to the 2 books I mentioned in post #19 above, along with Michael Wood’s book which I recommended in the HK thread, I can also recommend the following as solid initial primers for you:

    1. The Lonely Planet Guide to India: Gives a very good overview of the Mughal era, not just in the “History” chapters but also later on, in relation to regions (particularly in the North) which were most heavily impacted.

    The sections on Rajasthan in particular have a considerable amount of info with regards to the latter, due to the close links Rajputs ended up having with the corresponding Muslim/Mughal aristocracy, initially as adversaries and later as allies — the Sisodiasof Chittorgarhand subsequently Udaipur are the most famous examples of Rajputs who held out the longest, first against Babur and later against Akbar, often at an absolutely staggering cost of lives. Both of these individuals became noticeably less belligerent later on, and Akbar’s mindset in particular seems to mirror that of Ashoka’s to some extent. Both of them also initially had negative relations with the Sikhs which subsequently became much more positive — Babur was originally condemned by Guru Nanak as metaphorically being “the messenger of death”, but as Babur changed his attitudes in the following years he was actually blessed by the Guru that his descendents would continue to rule Hindustan as long as they ruled justly.

    Because of the protracted political and social interaction with the Muslim ruling powers, lasting several centuries, there was a considerable amount of cultural syncresis too in relation to some aspects of Rajput culture, lifestyle, courtly structure & protocols etc. The same thing happened to numerous other non-Muslim “ruling groups” in the northwestern of India, obviously to varying degrees depending on the specific group.

    2. Following on from this, The Lonely Planet Guide to Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra extrapolates the above and goes into a significant amount of further detail.

    Authoritative, objective commentaries on Rajput history should also be read, and if you ever visit the major palaces in Rajasthan, you should be able to buy (or at least browse through) relevant books on sale there which have been officially approved and authorised by the royal families concerned. They tend to have a lot of archived records and antiques from the Mughal period too.

    3. Reading information on Sikh history during the lifetimes of the 10 Gurus would be a good idea too, as it covers the 200 years of the “Great Mughals” in parallel. Various books are available, and there’s a huge amount of online information too (particularly good sources are Sikhs.org, Sikhnet and Sikh-history.com). However, bear in mind that the “Sikh experience” during the Mughal period was often negative, and the historical summaries concerned will reflect this in both content and tone.

    4. The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple is fascinating reading, for a biography of the life & times of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who got caught up in the events of 1857. Personally I think Dalrymple can sometimes be a little rose-tinted and biased in his views, but this is just a reflection of the fact that he obviously has a passion for India’s Mughal era and a great affection for India as a whole, and his writing is always extremely well-researched, incredibly detailed, very “readable” — Dalrymple’s often wry in his tone, but always compassionate and sincere — and brilliantly written. Apparently he plans to write 3 or 4 more detailed books on the Mughals during the next few years, so keep an eye out for that.

    Anyway, there’s plenty of other sources of information around, but I think the above will do for starters ;) Hope this helps.

  21. Jai — on 22nd December, 2007 at 1:32 pm  

    there was a considerable amount of cultural syncresis too in relation to some aspects of Rajput culture, lifestyle, courtly structure & protocols etc.

    Correction: “…..in relation to the impact & influence on some aspects of Rajput culture,…..”

  22. Desi Italiana — on 22nd December, 2007 at 9:31 pm  

    Cover Drive:

    “Why do people, especially in the West, regard the Mughal period as the greatest period of India’s civilisation? India was already a rich place before that.”

    I don’t think anyone is saying that the Mughal period was the greatest period of India’s “civilization” (btw, the borders of “India” as we know it today didn’t exist during the Mughal period). I think some people want to recognize the contours of that era.

    As a matter of curiosity, how come you see to think that the Mughal period was completely foreign to the subcontinent? As far as I can tell, it pretty much become rooted in various places in the sub-continent and became part and parcel of the sub-continent over a period of time. And if we were to compare reigns and empires, I’d say that the British empire was much more “foreign” to the sub-continent. Roughly two hundred years compared to 700 hundreds years is a big difference (but of course, in terms of law, mass transport, cricket, and “curry powder,” we got from the Brits).

    And lastly, many empires all over the world became intertwined, incorporated, and became a feature of said landscape. I’ve traveled a lot, and I’ve come to firmly believe that there is no “authentic.” The remnants of the Moorish empire in Spain and Portugal, for example, are very evident and ARE Spanish and Portugeuse by now. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

    “People also say that Mughal emperors encouraged religious freedom but those who benefited the most were the warrior, mercantile and trader classes. Eventually the peasants and artisans, who suffered high taxes under the Mughals, became radicalised and rebelled.”

    What you point to is not specific to the Mughal Empire– ruling classes the world over do not seek to benefit peasants. What you are talking about has more to do with class than the fact that the empire was Mughal. What you said is true for the British Empire, and the ruling elites today in India for example.

    And finally, like I’ve repeated ad nauseum on other threads, the Mughal Empire was decentralized. Talking about peasants and artisans en masse in the subcontinent is inaccurate. In some places they had a powerful reach (ie Delhi, some parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan, Hyderbad and so on) and in other places they didn’t.

  23. Desi Italiana — on 22nd December, 2007 at 9:39 pm  

    “And lastly, many empires all over the world became intertwined, incorporated, and became a feature of said landscape.”

    Just wanted to add that the Roman Empire is all over the place in North Africa as well. Roman ruins abound in Morocco, Libya, Algeria. As is the Spanish Empire in Latin America…

    I know this is a British Asian focused blog, but I really think people fixate so much on South Asia and the UK that they tend to not see the rest of the world around them and be able to draw contrasts and comparisons. No more UK and Asia-centrism, please :)

  24. Cover Drive — on 23rd December, 2007 at 6:47 am  

    Desi Italiana #22

    I agree with your analysis. My basic point is that there has been more interest in the Mughal period, especially in the West, than any other period of Indian history which I think is unfair, and like any empire the Mughal empire had its positive and negative contributions. To their credit the Mughals did made make India their home and over the years became indigenised. This is in stark contrast to the British Empire which basically sought to divide and rule and plunder as much wealth out the country.

    I do like Dalrymple because he’s a great writer. I’ve read his book ‘The Age of Kali’. I will read one of his books on Mughal India at some stage.

  25. Desi Italiana — on 23rd December, 2007 at 7:04 am  

    Cover Drive:

    “My basic point is that there has been more interest in the Mughal period, especially in the West, than any other period of Indian history which I think is unfair,”

    Hmmm… well, on PP there is much more interest in the Mughal empire. Not sure if we can take what we read on PP as indicative of the West :)

    I’m from the “West” (Amreeka) and lived in the West elsewhere (Italy), and I will say that there is much more fascination with “ancient India”– meaning Ashoka’s empire, Gupta Empire, etc. than the Moghul empire, or they are treated on equal terms, at least in the historical sense.

    Talking to Desis and Brits, however, the Mughal Empire dominates their popular imagination: for the former, I think it’s the result of manipulating religion and also communal dynamics; for the latter, I think it’s a mix of Orientalism or Orientalist fascination (which the Moghul empire stereotypically embodies the most) as well as the fact that it was the dominant ruling force to contend with when the Brits came. In other words, the Moghul empire’s historical proximity- with the Brits at its heels– is probably one of the reasons why it’s so discussed.

  26. Ravi Naik — on 23rd December, 2007 at 11:21 am  

    “I thought it would be helpful to give you a few more pointers on sources of info for Mughal-era history, since you were asking about this on the HK thread”

    That’s very kind of you, thanks Jai.

  27. Ravi Naik — on 23rd December, 2007 at 11:54 am  

    On the point of cultures, of empires, invasions and colonisations – I think the point is that it is very unlikely to find a “pure” culture, one which didn’t incoorporate influences from external sources. Cultures are formed from others, and something new and unique is built, they are authentic by their own right. Obvious the degree in which elements of a culture are incoorporated varies a lot.

    I do agree that one cannot dismiss Mughal and British influences as totally foreign, as they as they are very much a part of the Indian culture.

    Portugal’s moorish influences are part of its distant past. In the “Reconquista”, the Christian kingdoms wanted to get rid of moorish influences in the Iberian Peninsula, and they didn’t allow moors to live in Christian lands. Ironically, Christians could live in moorish territories, and they absorved islamic architecture and arts. So when moorish territories became Christian, these Christians managed to fuse two cultures in a subtle way. There was, of course, a knee-jerk reaction to destroy anything that resembled a non-Christian culture, but you still can find few intact moorish building across the country.

    The Moors culture though is survived in the language. A lot of Portuguese words start with ‘Al-’, and most of these have an arabic root. From names of places (Algarve – al’Garb) to names of things (Alface/Lettuce – alkhass), they have survived extintion.

    But perhaps the most interesting word is “Oxalá”, which is a very common word that means “I hope that”. It actually comes from “sha allah” or “inshallah”, or “if God willing…”.

  28. Jai — on 23rd December, 2007 at 1:06 pm  

    Ravi,

    The History Channel (Sky 529/530) actually had a superb 2-hour documentary on “The Moors” this morning, did you see it ? Fascinating stuff.

    I’ve actually been to Andalucia in Spain and it’s a beautiful part of Europe; I strongly recommend visiting the region for anyone interested in that sort of thing. Seville is picturesque although very urbanised compared to places like Cordoba and Grenada, which I like more because I think the historical legacy is more evident there. Superb architecture and very atmospheric. There’s also a noticeably tropical vibe to the climate and “greenery”. Extremely interesting history too, of course.

    I found that Portugal had more relics from their colonial era (plus some obvious historical links to Goa) compared to the Muslim period, although maybe that was just a reflection of the places I happened to visit.

  29. Rumbold — on 23rd December, 2007 at 2:10 pm  

    On the back on Jai’s recommendations, here are some primary sources of use:

    -Any of the Mughal Emperors autobiographies of their reign. Obviously such accounts are biased, but they give you a good idea of how the emperors wanted to be seen at the time.

    -On the British side, William Foster’s collection of travel accounts gives you an idea of what the original Brits in India felt about their new home.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Early-Travels-India-William-Forster/dp/8175361735/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198418960&sr=1-1

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