The Invasion Of Nadir

A.D. 1738 TO A.D. 1742

The old cry once more!

Over the wheat-fields of the Punjab, just as the seed was bursting

into green, that cry--

"The Toorkh! The Toorkh!"

Surely no land on the globe has suffered so much from invasion as

Hindustan? The mythical Snake-people first, coming from God knows
/> where.... Then the Aryans, with their flocks and herds, from the Roof

of the World.... Next the well-greaved Greeks, leaving their indelible

mark on Upper India.... So through Parthian, and Scythian, and

Bactrian, to the wild, resistless influx of Mongolian immigrations.

Then finally Mahmud and Mahomed, Tamerlane and Babar ... last of all,

Nadir the Persian.

His was an unprovoked, almost an unpremeditated invasion. It burst

upon India like a monsoon storm, swift, lurid, almost terrible in the

rapidity with which action follows menace. And like that same storm it

came, it passed, and the blue, unclouded sky seemed far away from the

desolation and havoc that had been wrought.

In many ways this, the last, was the worst of all the sacks which

India had suffered. To begin with, it came so late in time. Towards

the middle of the eighteenth century one does not expect a robbing

raid on so vast a scale. It seems almost incredible that an army of

eighty thousand men should march through a country bent on plunder,

and plunder only.

Then its sole object--gold--was such a mean one. No political reason

lay at the back of the raid. Nadir had no ambitions. He did not wish

to add to his kingship; it was all wilful, wicked, merciless greed.

Yet Nadir-Shah himself was not absolutely a mean man. He was a native

of Khorasan, that is to say, an Afghan, born of no particular family,

but born a warrior. At the age of seventeen he was taken prisoner by

the Usbeks, but after four years of captivity made his escape.

Then he took service with the King of Khorasan, but, believing himself

ill-rewarded for a success against the Tartars, gave up his command,

and became, frankly, a freebooter.

A few years later, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, he threw in his

fortunes with those of a Persian princeling en retraite, and in his

name fought a variety of battles, in which he was invariably

victorious. They ended in the nominal restoration of Tahmasp to the

throne of his fathers. But behind Tahmasp sate Nadir, who had become

the idol of the Persian people; and small wonder, since he had raised

the nation from abject slavery to such military glory as Persia has

seldom possessed.

It was necessary, however, to continue soldierly exploits; so Nadir

set to work to settle a dispute with the Turks who had taken Tabriz.

He had recovered it, when trouble in Khorasan called him back, and

kept him employed for so long, that when he returned to the capital,

Isphahan, it was to find that his puppet Tahmasp had, during his

absence, become a person of much importance, and was exercising all

the royal prerogatives.

This did not suit Nadir, so, on the excuse of lack of statesmanship in

concluding a treaty with the Turks, he deliberately deposed Tahmasp,

and set his infant son in his stead.

This was practically the beginning of Nadir's reign, but he refrained

from assuming the title of King until many victories over the Turks

and Russians had strengthened his hold on the Persians.

Then, covered with glory, he assembled all the dignitaries, civil and

military, to the number of about one hundred thousand in a sort of

mutual admiration conference, when, no doubt by previous arrangement,

they offered him the crown, which, after some display of surprise and

reluctance, he was pleased to accept.

Now this was all very deep-laid, very diplomatic; but Nadir's

cleverness was at times too clever. In some of his campaigns

he had deliberately changed his religion--or rather his

denomination--becoming Sunni instead of Shiah, in order to gain over a

warlike tribe which was obdurately troublesome; now, hoping to stamp

out any sentimental attachment to the dynasty which he had just

deposed, and whose claim to kingship rested entirely on its

championship of the Shiah tenets, he changed the national

denomination, and declared Persia henceforward a Sunni country. It was

a mistake; for though the Sunni section was pleased, the Shiahs felt

themselves alienated from their new king.

In another way Nadir showed more sense. It was his greatness as a

general which had won him sovereignty, and he recognised that it must

be kept by the same means; so he gathered together an army of eighty

thousand men and set off to conquer Kandahar.

L'appetit vient en mangeant. India lay just over the barrier of the

Koh-i-Suleiman hills, and the tribes who had hitherto been subsidised

by the Moghul Government to keep the peaks and passes, were now sulky

over their failure for some years past to squeeze anything out of the

bankrupt Government of Delhi.

But even Nadir required some excuse for bald, brutal invasion. He

therefore peremptorily demanded the expulsion of some Afghans who had

fled from punishment to shelter in Indian territory. At all times it

would have been difficult to lay hands on a band of wandering Pathans

amongst the frontier hills, but Delhi was at this time distracted by

fear of the Mahrattas, and still all uncertain whether to acknowledge

Nadir-Shah's claim to kingship.

The hesitation suited the latter; he was over the border, had defeated

a feeble resistance at Lahore, and was within 100 miles of Delhi

before he found himself faced by a real army.

There must surely be some malignant attraction about the wide plain of

Paniput! Surely the Angel-of-Death must spread his wings over it at

all times, since bitter battle has been fought on it again and again,

and its sun-saturated sands have been sodden again and again with the

blood of many men.

How many times has the fate of India been decided amongst its

semi-barren stretches, where the low dhak bushes glow like sunset

clouds on the horizon? First by the mythical, legendary Pandus and

Kurus, backed by the gods, protected by showers of celestial arrows.

Next, when Shahab-ud-din-Mahomed Ghori broke down the Rajput

resistance, and Prithvi-raj, the flower of Rajput chivalry, was killed

flying for his life amongst the sugarcane brakes. Timur passed it by,

but his great descendant Babar strewed the plain with dead in his

victorious march to Delhi. Here Hemu met with crushing defeat at

Akbar's hands, and now Nadir was to carry on the tradition of death,

until that last great fight in 1761, which ended the Mahratta power,

and so paved the way for British supremacy.

How many men's dust is mingled with the soil of Paniput? All we know

is that the life-blood of over a million is said to have been spilt

upon it.

Nadir's battle, however, appears to have been a comparatively

bloodless rout of an absolutely incapable enemy. Mahomed-Shah, the

so-called emperor of all the Indies, at any rate gave up the struggle

incontinently, sent in his submission, and the two kings journeyed

peacefully together to Delhi, which they reached in March 1739. Did

the populace come out to greet the sovereigns riding in, brother-like,

hand in hand, to take up their residence in the palace built by

Shahjahan? It is a quaint picture this, of cringing submission and

reckless ascendency.

To Nadir's credit be it said that, whatever ultimate object of plunder

he may have had, he wished to avoid bloodshed. For this purpose he

stationed isolated pickets of chosen troops about the city and suburbs

to keep order and protect the people. Unavailingly, for a strange

thing happened. Whether owing to some deep-laid, well-known plan for

poisoning the intruder which failed unexpectedly, or from some other

cause, the report was spread abroad within forty-eight hours that

Nadir-the-Conqueror, Nadir-the-mainspring-of-Conquest, was dead. The

rumours blazed like wildfire through the bazaars. In quick impulse the

mob fell on the pickets, and seven hundred Persians were weltering in

their blood when Nadir himself rode through the midnight streets,

intent, they say, on peace. But the provocation proved too much for

his cold, cruel Persian temper.

Struck by stones and mud hurled at him from the houses, the officer

next him killed by a bullet aimed at himself, he gave way to Berserk

rage. It was just dawn when the massacre he ordered began; it was nigh

sunset when it ended, and night fell over one hundred and fifty

thousand corpses. Nor did his revenge stop here. The treasure, which

he would no doubt have extorted in any case, was now seized on by

force, torture and murder being used to make the miserable inhabitants

yield up every penny. Every kind of cruelty was employed in this

extortion; numbers died from ill-usage, and many others destroyed

themselves from fear of a disgraceful death. As an eye-witness writes:

"Sleep and rest forsook the city. In every chamber and house was heard

the cry of affliction."

The Afghan has always possessed a perfect genius for pillage, and

after a short two months Nadir-Shah left Delhi, carrying away with him

an almost incredible quantity of plunder, which it is very generally

estimated at being worth L30,000,000; an enormous sum, but it must be

remembered that the famous peacock throne in itself was counted by

Tavernier as equal to L6,000,000 sterling.

But Nadir left Delhi something which, possibly, it might have

done better without; for ere leaving, he solemnly reinstated the

puppet-king, and swore fearful oaths as to the revenge he would take

on the nobles when he returned in a year or two should they fail in

allegiance. But he never did return; he really never meant to return.

He was a robber pur et simple, and he had got all that he had any

hopes of getting.

So he disappeared northwards again, to die a violent death ere long.

For despite his success, something of remorse had come to him,

uninvited, with the spoils of ravaged Delhi. He became cruel,

capricious, tyrannical; finally, he grew half-mad, until one night

the nobles, whose arrest he had decreed, the captain of his own

body-guard, the very chief of his own clan, entered his tent at

midnight. Then from the darkness came the challenge in the deep voice

which had so often led them to victory.

"Who goes there?"

For an instant they drew back, uncertain; but only for an instant.

They went for him with their sabres as they might have gone at a mad

dog, and Nadir, their hero, their pride, their tyrant, their horror,

ended his life.

How had he affected India?

First of all it had for the moment checked Mahratta aggrandisement.

The appearance of this unknown, hitherto almost unheard-of foe, who

traversed with such ease the country he had hoped to annex, and did

the things he had meant to do, seemed to paralyse Baji-Rao. His first

impulse was to aid in a general defence of India. "Our domestic

quarrels," he wrote, "are now insignificant; there is but one enemy in

Hindustan. The whole power of the Dekkan, Hindu and Mahomedan alike,

must assemble for resistance."

And even when Nadir-Shah had retreated without further progress

southward, Baji-Rao, free-booter, as all the Mahrattas were at heart,

must have felt himself frustrated. What use was there in reaching a

city desolate utterly, still infected by the stench of unburied

bodies; a city whose treasury doors stood wide open, empty, deserted;

a city, briefly, which an Afghan had pillaged? So he and his Saho

retired southwards.

As for the effects which Nadir's sudden swoop on the interior of the

plum-cake had on the nibbling mice upon its circumference, there is

little to be said. It must have been a surprise to the civilised

communities which were so rapidly coming into existence at such

centres as Calcutta, Madras, Bombay; centres in which life went

elegantly, and people began to talk of the latest news by mail from

England. Still, the mere brute-force of the invasion cannot have

shocked them much, for Europe itself was a prey at this time to wars

and rumours of wars. The 1715 rebellion was over in England; the 1745

had not yet begun. In France affairs were working up towards the

Revolution. Spain and Germany were alike, either at the beginning or

the end of disastrous struggles.

Yet the mere fact which must have filtered through to the

seacoast--that thirty millions worth of solid plunder had just been

filched away from the treasury of India by foreigners--cannot have

been pleasing news. The East India Company, however, seems to have

made no great efforts at aggrandisement during the years between the

special granting to it of lands by Farokhshir and 1746, when it

formally entered into grips with the French East Indian Company, which

about this time began that dispute for supremacy in India which

virtually ended with the taking of Trichinoply in 1761.

In truth we have very little information indeed regarding the doings

of John Company during this period. All we know is that British

imports into India fell from L617,000 in 1724 to L157,000 in 1741,

which, taken with a corresponding decrease in dividends, would seem to

show some depression, some check to trade.

One thing is certain. The Constitution of the Company was not

satisfactory. An attempt had been made to avoid a monopoly of large

shareholders by ruling that, no matter what the share held might be,

it should only, whether L500 or L50,000, carry one vote for the

election of the Court of Directors. But this ruling could be, and was,

easily evaded. All that had to be done was to split the L50,000 into a

hundred L500 shares, registered in the names of confidential agents,

who--in consideration of an honorarium, no doubt--voted according to

direction. It was not very straightforward, of course; on the other

hand, the original ruling was silly in the extreme, since it prevented

those who had a real interest in the Company from exercising their due

share of influence.

Unfortunately, this faggot-voting brought with it a corrupt

atmosphere. Appointments under the Company were a common bribe, and as

the Court of Directors had to be reappointed every year, there was

endless opportunity for jobbery.

So, after a time, opposition to the monopoly of the trade began once

more to take form. Proposals for yet a new company were floated.

Parliament once more took up the matter; which was finally settled by

the existing company offering L200,000 to Government, and a reduction

of 1 per cent. on the rate of interest payable on the previous loan of

some three-and-a-half millions (that is to say, a yearly income of

L35,000), as payment for the extension of their monopoly till 1766.

This offer was accepted, and in 1744 the term of monopoly was still

further extended until 1780, in consideration of a further loan to

Government of L1,000,000 sterling at the low rate of 3 per cent.

Coming as it did in the middle of a very expensive war, the temptation

of this pecuniary assistance must have been potent; but there can be

but little doubt that, publicly at any rate, the trade of India

suffered considerably from the exclusion of private enterprise.

Certain it is that while the English East India Company found

themselves forced to reduce their dividends to 7 per cent, the Dutch

Company was dividing 25.

Altogether, then, it is not surprising that, until the French, by

assuming the aggressive, forced the East India Company to bestir

itself, it did nothing of importance in the way of progress.