A.D. 1657 TO A.D. 1707
With Aurungzebe, the Middle Age of Indian History ends. From the date
of his death, interest finally ceases to centre round the dying
dynasties of India, and, changing sides, concerns itself absolutely
with the coming sovereignty of the West.
Even during his long reign of fifty years, the attention is often
distracted by the welter of conflicting commerce
which, leaving the
sea-boards, spread further and further up-country. It requires,
therefore, some concentration to deal with Aurungzebe, the last of the
Great Moghuls; the last, and, without doubt, the least estimable of
In truth, the steps to his throne were littered with black crime.
Shahjahan, his father, had, it is true, made his seat more secure by
the deaths by poison, bow-string, or sword, of the three next heirs to
the throne--one of them his half-uncle; but Aurungzebe trod on the
bodies of three brothers in reaching kingship, and for seven years of
that kingship carried about with him the prison key of a deposed and
dishonoured father. Of minor sins, such as the poisonings of nephews,
cousins, even aunts, there were scores. Well might he exclaim upon his
death-bed: "I have committed numerous crimes--I know not with what
punishment I may be seized."
And yet he was, in his way, a good king. Had he been less of a bigot,
he would have been a better one; but this bigotry was necessary to his
peace of mind. He could not have borne the sting of conscience without
some anodyne of hard-and-fast religious rectitude. It was after the
murder of his brother Dara, who, caught on the confines of Sinde,
almost unattended (for he had sent his most trusted adherents back to
Lahore with the dead body of his wife, who had died of fatigue), was
given a mock trial for heresy and done to death, that Aurungzebe built
the celebrated Blood-money Mosque at Lahore, in which no Mahomedan
prayed for long years, feeling it to be defiled indeed.
But Aurungzebe was for ever hedging between this world and the next,
so we must take him as we find him--an absolutely contemptible
creature, who yet did good work. Needless to say, however, "Akbar's
Dream" vanished into thin air from the moment he set his foot upon the
The first five years of his reign were practically spent in ridding
himself of relations. The whole family of Shujah suffered death, and
even his own son was immured as a state prisoner in consequence of a
trivial act of independence.
Then--and small wonder!--he was seized with a mysterious illness,
which left him speechless. Nothing but his marvellous determination
could have averted the chaos which must have followed in a state but
half broken in to his murderous methods. But he sent for his great
seal and his sister Roshanara, and keeping them both by his sick-bed,
held order by sheer insistency until he recovered.
So, after a brief holiday in Kashmir--that happy hunting-ground of all
the Moghul kings, who seem to have inherited the love of beautiful
scenery from their great ancestor, Babar--he came back to face the
greatest foe to the Moghul power which had arisen since the combined
Rajput resistance was finally broken by Mahomed-Shahab-ud-din-Ghori.
This foe was the Mahratta race, which had been gradually growing to
power in the Western Ghats, that natural stronghold of mountains which
rises in many places like a wall between the Western Sea and the high
table-land of Central India. No more fitting birthplace for warlike
tribes could be imagined. Towards the sea, breaks of rich rice-fields,
tongued by spurred rocks and outlying strips of almost impenetrable
forest. Then the bare, broken ridges, 3,000 or 4,000 feet high, ending
often in a scarp of sheer precipice, and giving on wide, thicket-set
woods, through which, after a while, ravines break into valleys to the
eastward. A land of rain--clouds from the south-west monsoon, of
roaring torrents and drifting mists; full of wild beasts fleeing
fearfully from the small, sturdy huntsmen of the hills. These were the
Mahrattas. Not a very interesting race when all was said and done.
Brave, dogged, determined, but, by reason, doubtless, of their Sudra
extraction, lacking the nobility of the Rajput and the Rajput nicety
It was in the time of Malik-Amber, the Abyssinian slave who in the
reign of Jahangir gave new life to the dying dynasty in the Dekkan,
that the Mahrattas first made their mark. Before this, history does
not even recognise them.
Amongst the Mahratta officers of Malik-Amber was one Malo-ji, who had
a five-year-old son called Shah-ji. To a Hindu festival at the house
of a Rajput this boy was taken, and by chance was lifted to one knee
of the host, whose little daughter of three occupied the other.
"They are a fine couple," laughed the host and father. "They should be
man and wife!"
This was enough for Malo-ji's ambition. He started up, and called the
company to witness that the girl was affianced to his son.
Naturally enough, the claim roused indignation; but in the end,
Malo-ji's fortunes improving, Shah-ji gained his high-caste bride, and
from the marriage sprang Siva-ji, the national hero of the Mahrattas,
who was destined to wreck the power of the Moghuls in the south.
Siva-ji, by the time he was sixteen, was already notorious. His love
of adventure, his knowledge of the popular ballads of the people, his
complicity in the great gang-robberies which formed an ever-recurring
excitement to life in the Ghats, his intimate acquaintance with every
footpath and defile in that wild country, his horsemanship, his
sportsmanship, were on the tongues of all; and when, still in his
teens, he fortified one of the neglected hill-citadels and set up a
chieftainship of his own, there were not wanting those who laughed at
the impertinence as a high-spirited, boyish freak.
But within a few years the boyish freak was found to be open
rebellion, and Siva-ji was practically king of the wild western
country. What is more, he had become an ardent Hindu, and laid claims
to Divine dreams.
The court at Bijapur attempted remonstrance, imprisoned poor Shah-ji,
his father, and threatened to wall him up unless Siva-ji repented of
his errors: whereupon, with the cunning which distinguished him in all
things, the latter made overtures to, and was taken into the service
of, Shahjahan, then engaged in the Dekkan. So for a few years affairs
remained at a deadlock; Siva-ji, apprehensive for his father, Bijapur
of the Moghuls.
Then Shah-ji being released, his son began his career of annexation
afresh, being checked, however, in his depredations by fear of Prince
Aurungzebe, who was then fighting the King of Golconda.
Both of the same kidney, artful, designing, specious, the diplomacies
which passed between the Mahratta robber-chieftain and Aurungzebe,
intent on stealing the throne of India, cannot have been edifying.
The former took the opportunity of the latter's hasty retreat on the
news of his father's illness, to increase his power by an act of
double-dyed treachery. He induced the commander of the King of
Bijapur's forces to come unattended to the hill fort of Partabghar in
order to receive his submission.
The scene is dramatic.
The generalissimo, in white muslin, carrying for ornament only a
stiff, straight sword of state, awaiting on a rocky plateau with one
single attendant the advance of Siva-ji, who, also in white muslin,
was seen slowly descending the steps of his eyrie, apparently unarmed,
and also with but one attendant. A slim little bit of a fellow this
Siva-ji, timid, hesitating. But appearances are deceitful: underneath
his muslin robing was chain armour, within his closed left hand were
the "tiger's claws" (sharp hooks of steel fastened on to the fingers
with which to grapple with the foe), and close to his outstretched,
salaaming right hand was a poniard. It was all over in a second. The
tiger's claws gripped and held, the dagger did its work. And then
Siva-ji's wild robber hordes, conveniently disposed beforehand by
secret paths round the royal troops, fell upon them and spared not
until victory was secure. For in truth Siva-ji appears to have been of
the noble highwayman type--that is to say, not set on murder if he can
gain gold without it.
Siva-ji's next exploit was less blameworthy. Shayista-Khan, who
commanded Aurungzebe's forces in the Dekkan, marched to annihilate the
little robber, and, succeeding in worsting him in the open, took up
quarters at Poona; curiously enough, occupying the very house in which
Siva-ji had spent his youth.
Possibly the intimate knowledge of back-door passages, which he must
thus have possessed, suggested what was more a boyish escapade than a
serious attack. Siva-ji, with some twenty followers, entered Poona at
night by joining a marriage procession, made his way straight to the
house, entered by a side door, and was in Shayista-Khan's bedroom but
half a minute too late, yet just in time to cut off with his sword the
two fingers that clung to the window-sill as the Mahomedan general let
himself down into the courtyard below. Whereupon, seeing that same
courtyard full of ramping soldiery, Siva-ji retired as he came, until,
once outside the city gates, he lit up torches and flambeaux; so
making his way back to his hill eyrie, some 12 miles off, in a blaze
of triumph that was visible to every Moghul in the place. This tale is
still told by the Mahratta bards with immense enthusiasm, though the
story of his march against Aurungzebe at Delhi is really more
They were birds of a feather these two: both small, slippery,
absolutely untrustworthy; both playing consistently for their own
hands. At one time, however, Siva-ji seems to have been inclined to
yield to Aurungzebe, and honest, liberal treatment might have turned
the rebel freebooter into a staunch adherent; but it was not in
Aurungzebe to trust any one. So, mistaking his man utterly, he
received the little Mahratta cavalierly, and when he stormed and raged
and positively swooned with vexation, made him virtually a prisoner.
Almost alone in Delhi with his five-year-old son Samba-ji, Siva-ji was
too wily to precipitate matters by any display of annoyance; but he
laid his plans. His first move was to beg leave for his small escort
to leave Delhi, the climate of which he said was insalubrious. To this
Aurungzebe gave glad consent; it seemed to leave Siva-ji still more at
his mercy. The latter next took to his bed on plea of sickness. This
afforded him an opportunity of, first, being able to use the Hindu
physicians, who were allowed to attend him, as spies and go-betweens;
second, of sending sweetmeats and other offerings to various fakirs,
Hindu and Mahomedan, with a request for their prayers. And as he grew
more and more sick, the hampers and baskets containing the offerings
grew larger and larger, until one day--hey presto!--little Siva-ji and
his little son occupied the place of the sweetmeats. It was hours
before the guards discovered that the sick-bed was occupied by a
dummy, and by that time Siva-ji was in Muttra amongst his disguised
followers. He himself adopted that of a wandering jogi, and, smeared
all over with ashes, arrived in due time quite jauntily in his old
Aurungzebe took his defeat in good part. For the time he was occupied
with Shahjahan's death, and with embassies from Arabia and Abyssinia.
Then Little Tibet had just been brought under his sway, and in Bengal
the kingdom of Arrakan, which held the rich rice-fields of Chittagong,
had been added to the crown.
It was some years, therefore, before Aurungzebe pitted himself once
more against the Mahratta.
Then once again he found the impracticability of subduing an enemy
which, at the first attack, reduced itself to a horde of units, each
one animated by individual love of fight, love of plunder. It was
guerilla war with a vengeance, so after a time the emperor was not
sorry to have his attention drawn from it to the northwest frontier.
On his return from this unsuccessful expedition, he settled down for a
time to govern his kingdom, which he did in a way that irritated and
exasperated both Hindus and Mahomedans. The former almost rose in
revolt at the reimposition of the poll tax on infidels; the latter,
especially in the court, objected to the prohibition of all
amusements. Amongst other prohibitions was the curious one of
forbidding history to be written, or court annals to be kept; the
result being that no real record of the last forty years of this reign
As time went on, he bore more and more hardly on the Hindus, until
discontent spread on all sides, and in the Dekkan every one was at
heart a partisan of Siva-ji.
Finally, an attempt on Aurungzebe's part to get into his power the
infant children of Rajah Jai-Singh of Amber, whom he had caused to be
poisoned in his distant viceroyalty of Kabul, joined to the iniquity
of the jizya, or infidel tax, set the whole of Rajputana in a flame.
In this connection the letter sent to the Emperor by Rana Raj-Singh of
Chittore may be quoted in part, as an example of the dignified
remonstrances which preceded the appeal to the sword.
"How can the dignity of the sovereign be preserved who employs his
power in exacting heavy tribute from a people thus miserably
reduced?... If your Majesty places any faith in those books, by
distinction called divine, you will there be instructed that God is
the god of all mankind, not the god of Mahomedans alone. The pagan and
the Mussulman are equally in His presence ... to vilify the religion
or customs of other men is to set at naught the pleasure of the
Almighty ... In fine, the tribute you demand from Hindus is repugnant
to justice; it is equally foreign to good policy, as it must
impoverish the country."
The appeal, needless to say, was fruitless; but after a long and
mutually disastrous war a sort of peace was patched up between the
Rajputs and the Moghuls, leaving Aurungzebe free to attempt yet once
again to repress the irrepressible Siva-ji, who by this time had been
crowned King of the Mahrattas, and had become a still more ardent
Hindu, minutely scrupulous to ceremonial and caste.
Thus the two great rival powers in India were bigoted Hinduism,
bigoted Islamism. A far cry, indeed, from dead Akbar's Dream of
So the struggle recommenced. But Siva-ji was more elusive than ever.
He fought by sea as well as by land, and the first record of a naval
war in India is that which he waged along the shores of Western India.
Only the English settlement at Surat defied him. They put their
factory into what state of defence was possible, garrisoned it with
their crews, and met the marauding Mahrattas with a sally which
effectually drove them off. For which valiant defence of their own,
Aurungzebe exempted the English for ever from a portion of the customs
duty paid by other nations, and remitted the transit charges.
Siva-ji thus indirectly did a good turn to English commerce.
Years passed, bringing advantage to the Mahratta side, when, in 1680,
death suddenly intervened and carried off the clever, astute little
Siva-ji in the fifty-third year of his age.
A bit of a genius was Siva-ji, quick to seize on the mistakes of his
adversary, and far-seeing enough to appeal to natural spirit and
religious enthusiasm in his adherents. Thus, though his death was a
great blow, it did not crush the rising fortunes of the Mahrattas,
despite the fact that Samba-ji, his heir, had shown no capability for
kingship during his youth, and on his accession gave himself up to
cruelty and passion. Still the war dragged on; defeat was indeed
impossible to an army which had no cohesion, and which now, in
consequence of the failure of regular pay under Samba-ji's career of
idle luxury, degenerated into plundering hordes of mere freebooters.
It was at this juncture that Aurungzebe himself, possibly suspicious
of his generals, always distrustful of everything that did not
actually come under his eyes, and pass through his hands, marched
southwards. In a way, it was a fatal mistake; for he brought with him
all his intolerant authority, his infatuation for his faith. Hitherto
his officers, seeing the evil effects of levying the infidel tax
strictly in this land of infidels, had let it slide; now affairs took
a very different turn. But at first the imperial troops were fairly
successful, though by the time they had marched through the Ghat
country they were crippled by sickness, outwearied by the difficulty
of the roads, harassed by the continual depredations of Samba-ji's
guerillas both by sea and land. To add to difficulty, the latter
concluded a sort of a defensive alliance with the King of Golconda;
whereupon the emperor, tired of hunting a Will-o'-the-Wisp through
mists and swamps, seized on a stationary enemy. Golconda reduced to
terms, Bijapur next came under displeasure. A very small state, its
capital was an extremely large town, the circumference of the walls
being more than 6 miles. Garrisoned by a very small force it soon
fell, and Aurungzebe was carried in a portable throne through the
breach into the deserted city. It remains now much as it was then--a
city, not of ruins, but of desertion. The walls, still entire, are
surmounted by the cupolas and minarets of the public buildings within,
so that from outside Bijapur shows bravely; but within all is
desolation. The wide Mosque, the splendid palace, the great domed tomb
of the kings, are alike deserted, the home only of bats and hyenas.
Yet still, centering the desertion, stands the old brass cannon,
weighing 41 tons, which "Rumi the European" cast in 1585.
While this was going on, be-drugged, dissolute Samba-ji watched the
proceedings inertly, ineptly. The Mahratta historians accuse Kalusha
the Brahman, his favourite, the pandar to all his vices, of having
enchanted the young man; but the enchantment was mere sensuality,
His time for enjoyment, nevertheless, ran short. Golconda and Bijapur
taken, Aurungzebe, triumphant--after, as usual, alienating the people
by his religious intolerance--added to religious hatred by capturing
the person of Samba-ji while drunk and incapable in his favourite
palace of pleasure, and thereinafter, having paraded him through the
camp in disgrace, ordering him to prison. Whereupon Samba-ji, roused
at last to sense, openly reviled the emperor, his prophet, his faith,
in language so strong that it was considered necessary to cut his
tongue out as a punishment for blasphemy, before beheading him and his
favourite, the vile Kalusha.
Anything more injudicious could not well be conceived. Despised as
Samba-ji had been whilst alive by the better class of Mahrattas, he
was now a martyr. From this time, the fortunes of Aurungzebe, and with
them the Empire of the Moghuls, began to fall; and for the few
remaining years of his life, the emperor, now growing old, must have
felt himself and his power on the downward grade. His indefatigable
perseverance, his laborious energy, are almost pitiful. Over eighty
years of age, he rested not at all, and despite our reprobation, the
heart softens towards the tired old man as we see him, seemingly
careless of the greater enemy along his sea-board, leading his armies
through trackless forests and flooded valleys, enduring hardships that
would have tried youth, in pursuit of the irrepressible, irresponsible
Mahrattas. An old man, small, slender, stooping, with a long nose, a
frosted beard, and a perpetual smile.
That smile was worn outside; but within? Within was weariness and fear
even for this life. The remembrance of his father's fate at his hands
seems never to have left him; every action of his during the later
years of his reign showing his fear lest a like fate should be his. So
he held every tiny thread of the great warp and woof of Government in
his own hands. Only thus could he feel secure.
In such a system abuse is inevitable. No single eye can supervise a
wide empire, and so corruption grew apace, and with corruption,
inefficiency. The noblemen, waxing effeminate, wore wadded coats under
their chain armour; their horses, laden with ornamentations, housed
with velvet, were purely processional, and utterly unfit for war. The
common soldiers, aping their superiors, followed suit, and became so
slothful that they could neither keep watch nor picket, and discipline
Yet all the time, while Aurungzebe, old, enfeebled in health,
outwearied himself in precautions, in providence, the greatest enemy
to the Moghul dynasty was advancing, apparently unnoticed, in rapid
strides. For the West had finally set its face towards the East.
Commerce had already joined hands over the empire. In 1667 Britain,
France, Holland, and Denmark, signed a treaty of common cause at Breda
that was practically a league against the Pagan and the Portuguese. A
few years previously the island and town of Bombay had been ceded to
England as part of the dower of Catherine of Braganza, and had become
thereby so much an integral part of Great Britain that every native in
it, every child born there, had the right to claim every privilege of
a British subject.
Fort St George, the nucleus of Madras, was finally established, and
the group of factories around it formed into a presidency. Job
Charnock had founded Calcutta, and Hugli was soon to be merged in it.
Then a new note had come into the dealings of the English with the
accession of James II. A large shareholder, he promised the East India
Company military support, and henceforward the "native powers were to
be given to understand that the Company would treat with them as an
independent power, and, if necessary, compell redress by force of
arms." In consequence of this the President, Sir John Child, was
appointed "Captain-General and Admiral of all forces by sea and land."
Poor Sir John Child! He was the first instance of a cat's-paw in the
East (there have been many since!), and when the tortuous policy of
the Company towards the Great Moghul failed, and they found it
impossible to hunt with the hounds and run with the hare, by making
war in Bengal, and wearing a mask of friendship in Bombay, he went to
the wall promptly in obedience to Aurungzebe's "irreversible order"
that "Mr Child, who did the disgrace, should be turned out and
But there was more disgrace than the making of a scapegoat out of one
man in store for the old original East India Company. How much of the
dirt flung at it in the next ten years or so deserves to stick? Who
can tell? Or who can say how much of the moil and turmoil which arose
around it was due to honest John Bull's honest love of clean hands,
and how much to the itching of his palm? When gold is in dispute,
motives are hard to dissever, impossible to pigeonhole. And in those
days the Pagoda Tree was in full bearing, the gold lay on Tom
Tiddler's ground ready to be picked up. So, at least, it must have
seemed to England.
A terrible temptation to all sorts of sins. And so we have allegations
of bribery, Parliamentary enquiries, scandalous disclosures,
petitions, answers at length, impeachment of the Duke of Leeds,
convenient disappearance of the Duke's servant, final hint by the
disturbed king--William of Orange--that disclosures and exposures were
out of season, as he was under the necessity of "putting an end to
this session in a few days."
So at last we get at Act 9, William III., c. 44, for "raising a sum
not exceeding 2,000,000 upon a fund for payment of annuities after the
rate of L8 per annum, and for settling the trade to the East
Thus the new company, started by solemn act of legislature, was left
eyeing the old one. At first there seemed likelihood of their fighting
it out like the Kilkenny cats. But in the pursuit of gold the main
chance is a potent factor for peace. And so, while Aurungzebe, near
his life's limit, was still, in his ninth decade of years, wearily
pursuing the Mahratta, Earl Godolphin, Lord High Treasurer of Great
Britain, as referee, succeeded in reconciling the conflicting claims
of commerce, and--to make his award binding on both parties--inserted
a special clause in an Act of Parliament, by which the old London East
India Company and the new English East India Company were for ever
amalgamated under the title of the "United Company of Merchants of
England trading to the East Indies."
By this arrangement there passed to one control in India alone, the
ports and islands of Bombay, the factories of Surat, Sivalli, Broach,
of Amadad, Agra, Lucknow, and on the Malabar Coast, the forts of
Karwar, Tellicherri, Anjengo, besides the factory at Calicut. Rounding
Cape Cormorin, the coast of Coromandel held Orissa, Chingi, Fort St
George, the city of Madras and its dependencies; Fort St David, the
factories of Cuddalore, Porto-Novo, Pettipoli, Masulipatam,
Madapollam, Vizagapatam. Going northward to Bengal there was Fort
William or Calcutta, with its large territory, Balasore, Cossimbazaar,
Dacca, Hugli, Malda, Rajmahal, and Patna.
From which long list may be seen how steady had been the nibbling at
India's coral strand during the last fifty years. The grant of
Calcutta, with leave thereupon to erect fortifications, was
practically the beginning of the end. This was almost the last act of
Aurungzebe's reign. Shortly after, he lay dying, a man of eighty-nine,
still in full possession of his faculties.
There is something very terrible about the death-bed of this man, who
for fifty long years had held, without aid of any sort, the reins of
Government. He had no friends; he could not trust any one sufficient
for friendship. His one lukewarm affection seems to have been for his
intriguing sister Roshanrai, the woman who had sate beside his sick-bed
guarding the Great Seal. For others he had literally no heart.
So in his death he was quite alone. Except for his remorse.
"Old age has arrived.... I came a stranger into this world, and a
stranger I depart. I know nothing of myself; what I am, and for what I
am destined. The instant which has passed in power, hath left only
sorrow behind it. I have not been the guardian and protector of the
Empire. My valuable time has been passed vainly. I had a guide given
me in my own dwelling" (conscience), "but his glorious light was
unseen by my dim sight. I brought nothing into this world, and, except
the infirmities of man, take nothing out. I have a dread for my
salvation and with what torments I may be punished.... Regarding my
actions fear will not quit me; but when I am gone, reflection will not
remain. Come, then, what come may, I have launched my vessel to the
waves. Farewell, Farewell--Farewell!"
So he wrote from his death-bed to his second son, and to his youngest
"Son nearest to my heart! The agonies of death come upon me fast.
Wherever I look I see nothing but the Divinity. I am going! Whatever
good or evil I have done it was done for you."
He was a great letter-writer. Three huge volumes of his epistles are
still extant; but even in these last solemn ones the absolute truth
was not in them; for under his pillow when he died a paper was
found--a sort of will, in which he appoints his eldest son Emperor,
bids his second be content with Agra and Bengal, while to the one
"nearest his heart," the doubtful kingship of Bijapur and Golconda was
gifted. Aurungzebe was diplomatic to the last.
[Map: India to A.D. 1707]