The Wanderings Of A King
A.D. 1542 TO A.D. 1556
When Humayon and his Queen Hamida-Banu-Begum left the infant Akbar to
face fortune by himself, their own hopes for the future were low
indeed. Look where they would, there seemed small chance of success.
India itself had practically become independent of Delhi, where
the dreamful, opium-drugged king had thought to consolidate his
empire by building a new
apital. It is curious to mark in that
fourteen-mile-long expanse of faintly-broken ground strewn with
purple-stained bricks, which stretches between the massive ruins about
the Kutb Minar to modern Delhi at the foot of the red ridge, how each
succeeding dynasty had shifted its ground nearer and nearer the river,
until at last it flowed beneath the very walls of the palace which
Shah-jahan built, and where his descendant Bahadur-Shah carried on, in
1857, the conspiracy which led at last to the extinction of the Moghul
The long fight for Rajputana which had gone on for centuries so that
the taking and retaking of its principal forts forms the standing dish
of every reign, had for the time ended in temporary independence.
Even at Chitore, Humayon's delay in coming to the rescue of his
bracelet-bound sister had been unproductive of result; for the
Princess Kurnavati's young son Udai-Singh had escaped, and was now
back in his own.
The story of his escape is still a favourite one in India, and women,
cuddling their babies, tell breathlessly how one Rajputni once gave
her child to death to save a king.
Little Udai-Singh, smuggled to safety with his foster-mother, found
asylum in his half-brother's palace. But one night screams rose from
the women's apartments, followed by the sudden ominous death-wail.
Punnia, the foster-mother, knew what had happened. The half-brother
must have been assassinated as a preliminary to the murder of her
charge. She caught him up, thrust opium into his mouth with a last
drop of her milk, hid him, still sleeping, in a fruit-basket, and sent
him out by the hands of a faithful servant, to await her among the
rushes of the river-bed.
Then, throwing the little king's rich coverlet over her own child, she
sat down to wait--for what?
For a question which she must answer.
And yet, when it did come, human nature was almost too strong for her.
She could only point to the little sleeper in reply to that clamour
for "The King! The King!"
And still she had to wait. To weep reservedly over her own darling, to
do him reverence, and so, the last ceremony over, steal away hastily
to where her king waited her in the rushes. Then, dry-eyed, stern, she
carried him, drawing life from her bereaved breast, over wild hill and
dale, till, reaching the mountain fortress of Komulmer, she could set
her nurseling on the governor's knee, and say: "Guard him--he is the
Udai-Singh, unfortunately, grew up unworthy of his foster-mother's
sacrifice. Still, he held Chitore, and many another Rajput prince held
other portions of the central tableland of India, whose rocky
mountains form an ideal country for independence and revolt. For the
rest, as we have seen, the Dekkan, Guzerat, and Malwa were held by
Mahomedan dynasties, as were the smaller principalities of Khandesh,
Bengal, Jounpur, Multan, Sinde. Towards the south-east the vast
kingdom, mostly forest, of Orissa remained unexplored, and in the
west, the whole narrow strip which includes the Western Ghats figures
not at all in history. Yet it was on this narrow strip that the first
grip of Europe on Hindustan was to be laid.
Columbus was sailing the High Seas. The maritime nations, Italy,
England, Spain, were on the qui vive for new worlds, and in
1484--just a year after Babar was born on Valentine's day--one Pedro
de Covilham set out for India, overland, by the orders of King John of
Portugal, with instructions to return with a report as to the
practicability of reaching Hindustan' by sea. He reached India, being,
apparently, the first European to touch its soil, but was detained on
the return journey by the Arabs.
Ere he reached home in A.D. 1525 (after close on six and-thirty years
of imprisonment), Portugal had acted on the advice which he had
managed to send, God knows how. Vasco da Gama, leaving the Tagus in
1497, "coasted Guinea southwards, until he rounded into the Indian
Ocean"; so reached Calicut in A.D. 1498. It was the beginning. Almost
each year that followed saw a fresh, and ever a larger armament sent
out chiefly by the Portuguese Order of Christ, with the ostensible
object of converting the heathen. We read of nine, of seventeen,
finally, in 1507, of twenty-two ships carrying one thousand five
hundred fighting-men, and the very first Viceroy of India, Dom
Francesco Almeda. Goa was taken and made the seat of Government by Dom
Alfonso Albuquerque--after a tussle for the Viceroyalty--in 1510, and
in 1542 St Francis Xavier, joint founder of the Jesuits with Ignatius
Loyola, went out on a mission and had an enormous success of
marvellous stability, since to this day a large proportion of the
population on the south-west coast is professedly Roman Catholic.
Thus all India is practically accounted for in this, the first half of
the sixteenth century. At a casual glance it seems as if here we have
the vast continent tabulated, scheduled, within our reach. But a
closer look shows us that these dynasties, these wars, these
annexations and depredations, are but scratches on the surface of
life. The India of reality was, as ever, in the fields, heedless of
politics, heedless of all things beyond the village cosmogony save
that recurring cry of, "The Toorkh! the Toorkh!"
That brought ruin, perchance death; but after death comes life, after
ruin prosperity. And the new masters, no matter who they were, were
not on the whole bad masters. When the revenues of the state depend
upon the peasantry and the peasantry only, it is not politic to press
the revenue-giver too hardly. There can be small doubt, therefore,
that the general state of the country was distinctly flourishing. The
land-rent or land-tax, call it what you will, was high, but the land
itself was abundant, the people who had to live on it not too
numerous. And luxury did not come, as it came in Europe, to the lives
of the poor to make them poorer still. The standard of living did not
rise, women were content with the fashions of their mothers; men asked
no more than to be let live and die; humanity was its own amusement.
Practically, there was little difference in the system of Government
under Hindu and Mahomedan rule. In both, the supreme power was easy of
access. Petitions could be brought to the final authority without any
difficulty, and a certain rough justice undoubtedly prevailed.
The king hired and paid for a portion of the army which he mounted on
his own horses, but a large number of men came in independent parties
under leaders of their own.
Such was the India which Humayon left behind him for twelve long
years. His adventures during this time are less entertaining than the
wanderings of that prince of Bohemians, his father, but they are still
When he crossed the Persian border, he found himself received with a
certain contemptuous pity. Still, female servants were sent to attend
on the queen, and demonstrations were made in his favour. Arrived at
the court of King Tahmasp, however, the exiled monarch of India found
himself by no means on a bed of roses. Even the gift of the greatest
treasure he possessed, a huge diamond, did not ameliorate his
situation; for Shah Tahmasp affected to despise the jewel, and is said
to have sent it away disdainfully in a gift to the King of the Dekkan.
But the whole history of this diamond, which has now disappeared, is a
fine romance. It is said to have been the eye of Shiv-ji in some
shrine, and to have passed into the possession of many conquerors,
until it was given to Babar in recognition of chivalrous kindness and
courtesy shown to them by the family of the Rajah of Chitore. Babar,
who kept nothing for himself, gave the stone, "worth half the daily
expenditure of the world," to his son. It is said to have weighed
about 280 carats, and to have been of the purest water; it is also
conjectured that it reappeared as the Great Moghul diamond which
Tavernier describes as belonging to Shah-jahan, and that possibly it
is this very stone which, cleft and badly cut, still shines as the
It did not, anyhow, avail Humayon much. More effective was his servile
consent to wear the red cap of the Persian, and by this becoming a
khizil bash, renounce his Sunni faith, and proclaim himself a Shiah.
He did not do this without much pressure, and at the very last nearly
broke bondage; but the promise of ten thousand horse wherewith to
recover his kingdom was too tempting. With this force he attacked
Kandahar, where his brother Askari still held little Akbar as a
hostage; or, rather, had so held him until the attacking army loomed
over the horizon, when, after some hesitation as to whether it would
not be wiser to send the boy under honourable escort to his father,
Askari decided on obeying his brother Kamran's orders, and despatched
the little prisoner to Kabul. The story of that inclement winter march
across the hills, with its attempts at rescue and numberless
adventures, would make a charming book for English children.
After five months siege, Kandahar surrendered, "Dearest Lady" having
succeeded in obtaining a promise of pardon for Askari from his
brother. It was revoked, however, in an altogether indefensible
manner, and Askari was kept in chains for the next three years. This
is so unlike Humayon's usual conduct towards his brothers, that it
gives colour to the assertion made by some authorities that Askari's
punishment was due to the discovery of a further offence.
After Kandahar had capitulated, Humayon marched on Kamran and Kabul.
This is the march rendered famous by Sir Donald Stewart in the Afghan
War, and by Lord Roberts' subsequent and rapid repetition. It was now
winter, which had set in with extraordinary severity, and much of the
country was under snow. Half-way to Kabul Humayon was joined by his
brother Hindal, who, with brief intervals of hesitation, appears to
have been fairly faithful. Their amalgamated armies proved too
formidable for Kamran to face, though at first he had prepared for
extremities by removing little Akbar from his grand-aunt "Dearest
Lady's" care, and giving the lad to a trusted creature of his own; so
flight to Ghuzni followed. The child, however, remained, and Humayon's
delight at recovering his little son was great. Taking the boy in his
arms, he exclaimed: "Joseph was cast by envious brethren into the pit;
but in the end he was exalted to great glory, as thou shalt be, my
Only remaining in Kabul long enough to restore the young prince to
safer keeping, Humayon set off in pursuit of his brother, who, finding
the gates of Ghuzni closed against him, had fled to the Indus; but
while on this campaign Humayon fell so sick that his life was
despaired of. After two months' confinement to bed he recovered, only
to find himself deserted by his troops, and to hear that Kamran,
returning to Kabul one dawn, had managed to slip in with a chosen band
of followers as the city gates were being opened, had murdered the
governor in his bath, had put out the eyes of Fazl and Muttro, the
young prince's foster-brothers and playfellows, and had given the
young prince himself into the charge of unkindly eunuchs. It was an
anxious moment, and the almost despairing father, still weak from
illness, set himself to beat up recruits and march to recover his
capital, recover his son. Kamran's troops, meeting with a reverse in
the suburbs of the city, where--this being April--the peach-blossom
must have been all ablow, Humstyon was enabled to establish himself on
an eminence which commands the town, and to commence shelling it.
Whereupon Kamran sent a message to say that if the cannonade
continued, he would expose the young heir to all his father's high
hopes on the wall where the fire was hottest. A brutal threat, upon
the carrying out of which history stands divided, some authorities
saying that Akbar was so exposed, others declaring that Humayon
ordered the artillery to cease firing.
Be that as it may, on the 28th of April he entered the city in
triumph, Kamran having fled the previous night.
So little Akbar was once more in his father's arms. In his mother's
also, ere long, for Hamida-Banu-Begum rejoined her husband in the
spring. Regarding this, a pretty story is told by Aunt Rosebody in her
Memoirs. Humayon, ever a lover of pleasure, devised a sumptuous
entertainment to welcome his wife, and amongst the many devices for
amusement was this. All the ladies of the family, unveiled,
resplendent in jewels, were to range themselves in a circle round a
hall; and to this dazzling company the baby-prince--he was but
four--was to be introduced to choose for himself a mother! One can
imagine the scene. Those laughing faces-all but one--around the child
who had not seen her he sought for two long years. The pause for
hesitation, the sickening suffocation of one heart, the sudden sense
of shyness, of loneliness, making one little mouth droop.
Then a quick cry, "Amna! Amna-jan!" and Hamida's arms closed
convulsively over the sobbing child. What laughter! What tears! As
Auntie Rosebody loves to say of all things that bring the sudden
vivifying touch of emotion, "It was like the Day of Resurrection." But
the young Akbar's trials were not yet over, neither were his father's
dangers. In the summer of 1548 Humayon once more pursued Kamran,
taking with him at first both Akbar and Akbar's mother--for whom the
king (or, as he was now called, the emperor) had an affection that
never wavered. Finding the way rough, he sent them back to Kabul; and
when he marched out from that city the next time on the same bootless
errand, he left the boy, who was now eight years old, behind him as
Governor of Kabul, under tutorship. Whereupon Kamran, who appears to
have had the faculty of doubling like a hare, taking advantage of a
serious wound which delayed his brother in the Sertun Pass, slipped to
his rear, and for the third time captured Kabul and that apple of
Humayon's eyes, Prince Akbar.
This was the last of Kamran's exploits, however, for Humayon, after
suffering agonies of fear lest evil should happen to his heir, gained
a complete and final victory over his brother, who fled once more;
not, however, to the emperor's great relief, taking Akbar with him. He
was soon after captured by the King of the Ghakkur tribe, that warlike
race of the Indian Salt Range who broke the ranks of the Ghuzni
Mahmud, and assassinated his successor in campaign, Ghori-Mahomed.
Being immediately betrayed to Humayon, he met his fate at last. Yet
even now, after treasons seventy-and-seven, he was nearly forgiven;
would have been forgiven but for the fact that Humayon's favourite
brother, Hindal, had been killed in the pursuit of him. He deserved
death, but the blindness which was meted out to him leaves us with a
revulsion of feeling against the man who was driven by his adherents
into giving the order. A revulsion which Humayon hardly deserved,
since, opium-soddened, flighty in a way, unreliable as he was, cruelty
was not one of his faults.
And the adherents were right. With Kamran scotched, Humayon's fortunes
began at once to improve, and in 1535 he was able to invade the Punjab
with fifteen thousand horse. Within a year he was once more Emperor in
Delhi; but not for long. Six months after he re-ascended the throne,
before he had time even to take breath and look around him, he fell
from the roof of his library, and died from the result of the accident
four days afterwards. Visitors to Delhi are still shown the broken
stairs from which he fell, and are told the story of how, descending
the steps, he heard the call to prayer, and stopped to repeat the
creed and sit down till the long sonorous sound of the muazzim had
ended. And how, in attempting to rise again, his staff slipped on the
polished marble of the step.
The parapet is certainly but a foot high; but as one looks over it,
and remembers that Humayon was a man in the prime of life, the wonder
comes if the opium which claimed so large a share in the emperor's
life had not an equal share in his death.
[Map: India to A.D. 1556]