Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Palace Burns

Featuring James Talboys Wheeler

Previously on Akbar Establishes the Mogul Empire In India.

Time: 1556
Place: Lahore, India

Akbar had ceased to be a Muslem; he still maintained appearances. He set apart Saturday evenings for controversies between the fathers and the mollahs. In the end the fathers convinced Akbar of the superiority of Christianity. They contrasted the sensualities of Mohammad with the pure morality of the Gospel; the wars of Mohammad and the caliphs with the preachings and sufferings of the Apostles. The Muslem historian curses the fathers; he states that Akbar became a Christian. The fathers, however, could never induce Akbar to be baptized. He gave them his favorite son Amurath, a boy of thirteen, to be educated in Christianity and the European sciences. He directed Abul Fazl to prepare a translation of the Gospel. He entered the chapel of the fathers, and prostrated himself before the image of the Saviour. He permitted the fathers to preach Christianity in any part of his empire; to perform their rites in public, in opposition to Muslem law. A Portuguese was buried at Fathpur with all the pomp of the Roman Catholic ritual; the cross was carried through the streets for the first time. But Akbar would not become a Christian; he waited, he said, for the divine illumination.

"He hated the Muslem religion. He overthrew the mosques and converted them into stables. He trusted and employed the Hindus more than the Muslems. Many of the Muslems rebelled against him; they stirred up his brother, the Governor of Kabul, to take up arms against him; but Akbar defeated the rebels and restored order.

"It is uncertain what really was the religion of Akbar. Some said that he was a Hindu; others that he was a Christian. Some said that he belonged to a fourth sect, which was not connected with either of the three others. He acknowledged one God who was best content with a variety of sects and worshippings. Early in the morning, and again at noon, evening, and midnight, he worshipped the sun. He belonged to a new sect, of which the followers regarded him as their prophet." Akbar was no fanatic. He was not carried away by religious craze. His religion was the outcome of his policy; it was political rather than superstitious; it began with him and ended with him. Probably the lack of fanaticism caused its failure. Abul Fazl speaks of the numbers who joined it; the list which he has preserved only contains the names of eighteen courtiers, including himself, his father, and his brother. Only one Hindu is on the list; namely, Bir Bar, the Brahman.

Akbar tried hard to improve the morals of his subjects, Hindus as well as Muslems. He placed restrictions upon prostitution; he severely punished seducers. He permitted the use of wine; he punished intoxication. He prohibited the slaughter of cows. He forbade the marriage of boys before they were sixteen, and of girls before they were fourteen. He permitted the marriage of Hindu widows. He tried to stop sati among the Hindus, and polygamy among the Muslems.

There was much practical simplicity in Akbar's character. It showed itself in a variety of ways. It was not peculiar to Akbar; it was an instinct which shows itself in Moguls generally. His emirs cheated him by bringing borrowed horses to muster; he stopped them by branding every horse with the name of the emir to which it belonged as well as with the imperial mark. He appointed writers to record everything he said or did. He sent writers into every city and province to report to him everything that was going on. He hung up a bell at the palace; any man who had a grievance might ring the bell and obtain a hearing.

Akbar was very inquisitive. He sent an expedition to discover the sources of the Ganges. He made a strange experiment to discover what language was first spoken by mankind. This experiment is typical of the man. The Muslems declared that the first language was Arabic; the Jews said it was Hebrew; the Brahmans said it was Sanskrit. Akbar ordered twelve infants to be brought up by dumb nurses; not a word was to be spoken in their presence until they were twelve years of age. When the time arrived the children were brought before Akbar. Proficients in the learned tongues were present to catch the first words, to decide upon the language to which it belonged. The children could not say a word; they spoke only by signs. The experiment was an utter failure.

The character of Akbar had its dark side. He was sometimes harsh and cruel. His persecution of Muslems was unpardonable. He had another way of getting rid of his enemies which is revolting to civilization. He kept a prisoner in his pay. He carried a box with three compartments--one for betel; another for digestive pills; a third for poisoned pills. No one dared to refuse to eat what was offered him by the Padishah; the offer was esteemed an honor. How many were poisoned by Akbar is unknown. The practice was in full force during the reigns of his successors.

Akbar required his emirs to prostrate themselves before him. This rule gave great offence to Muslems; prostration is worship; no strict Muslem will perform worship except when offering his prayers to God. Abul Fazl says that Akbar ordered it to be discontinued. The point is doubtful. It was certainly performed by members of the "divine faith." It was also performed during the reign of his son and successor.

The Mogul government was pure despotism. Every governor and viceroy was supreme within his province; the Padishah was supreme throughout his empire. There was nothing to check provincial rulers but fear of the Padishah; there was nothing to check the Padishah but fear of rebellion. All previous Muslem sovereigns had been checked by the Ulama and the authority of the Koran. Akbar had broken up the Ulama and set aside the Koran; he governed the empire according to his will; his will was law. The old Mogul khans had held diets; no trace of a diet is to be found in the history of Mogul India prior to the reign of Aurungzeb. There may have been a semblance of a diet on the accession of a new padishah; all the emirs, rajas, and princes of the empire paid their homage, presented gifts, and received titles and honors. But there was no council or parliament of any sort or kind. The Padishah was one and supreme.

Akbar dwelt many years at Lahore. There he seems to have reached the height of human felicity. A proverb became current, "As happy as Akbar." He established his authority in Kabul and Bengal. He added Cashmere to his dominions. His empire was as large as that of Asoka.

During the reign of Burhan, Akbar sent ambassadors to the sultans of the Deccan to invite them to accept him as their suzerain. In return he would uphold them on their thrones; he would prevent all internecine wars. One and all refused to pay allegiance to the Mogul. Akbar was wroth at the refusal. He sent his son Amurath to command in Guzerat; he ordered Amurath to seize the first opportunity for interfering in the affairs of Ahmadnagar.

The moment soon arrived. Burhan died in 1594. A war ensued between rival claimants for the throne. The minister invited Amurath to interfere. Amurath advanced to Ahmadnagar. Meantime the minister and queen came to terms; they united to resist the Moguls. The Queen dowager, known as Chand Bibi, arrayed herself in armor; she veiled her face and led the troops in person. The Moguls were driven back. At last a compromise was effected. Berar was ceded to the Padishah; Amurath retired from Ahmadnagar.

About this time a strange event took place at Lahore. On Easter Sunday, 1597, the Padishah was celebrating the Nau-roz, or feast of the new year, in honor of the sun. Tented pavilions were set up in a large plain. An image of the sun, fashioned of gold and jewels, was placed upon a throne. Suddenly a thunderbolt fell from the skies. The throne was overturned. The royal pavilion was set on fire; the flames spread throughout the camp; the whole was burned to the ground. The fire reached the city and burned down the palace. Nearly everything was consumed. The imperial treasures were melted down, and molten gold and silver ran through the streets of Lahore.

This portentous disaster made a deep impression on Akbar. He went away to Cashmere; he took one of the Christian fathers with him. He began to question the propriety of his new religion; he could not bring himself to retract, certainly not to become an open Christian. When the summer was over he returned to Lahore.

In 1598 Akbar left Lahore and set out for Agra. He was displeased with the conduct of the war in the Deccan. His son Amurath was a drunkard. The commander-in-chief, known as the Khan Khanan, who accompaniedAmurath, was intriguing and treacherous; he had probably been bribed bythe Deccanis. Abul Fazl was still the trusted servant and friend; he had been raised to the rank of commander of two thousand five hundred. Akbar had already recalled the Khan Khanan. He now sent Abul Fazl into the Deccan to bring away Amurath, or to send him away, as should seem most expedient.

Continued on May 28, 2014

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