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Chapter 4 – From 1698 to the Death of Aurangzib

Dissensions among the Marattas

The unexpected recovery of Zulfikar’s strength, which had put it in his power to renew the siege, was probably occasioned by dissensions among the Marattas, which now broke into an open quarrel.

Murder of Santaji Gorpara

Danaji Jadu had fallen out with Santaji, and had received the support of the raja, who was jealous of the renown of the latter chief; and as Santaji was unpopular, in consequence of his attempts to keep up discipline, a party was formed in his own camp, he was compelled to fly, and was at length overtaken and put to death on the spot.

Raja Ram takes the field in person

Before this catastrophe, Raja Ram had established his residence at Sattara, and he now assumed the active control of the whole government. He took the field himself, at the head of the largest Maratta army that had ever yet been assembled, and, proceeding to the north of the Godaveri, levied the clout and other dues on such places as submitted, and ravaged the rest as far as Jalna in Berar.

New plan of Aurangzib, a besieging and pursuing army

At this point his progress was checked in consequence of a change in the system of the Moguls. Hitherto Aurangzib had, for the most part, had his head-quarters at Birmapuri, sometimes sending a detachment under his son, Prince Azim, to reduce a hill fort or repel an incursion, but generally trusting

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the defence of the country to detachments stationed at different parts of it. At present plan was to bring his whole force into efficiency, by leading one part, in person, against the enemy’s forts, while another under Zulfikar Khan, nominally commanded by one of his grandsons, should pursue their field armies wherever they might direct their course. Had this plan been earlier adopted, it might have been attended with success; but disturbances had reached too great a height to be put down by any merely military dispositions. Although Zulfikar Khan began by driving back Raja Ram, as has been mentioned, and during the succeeding years repeatedly defeated the Marattas, and in some degree restored the courage of the Mussulmans, yet he found himself, at the end of that time, in a worse situation than when he began. A defeat to the Marattas was like a blow given to water, which offers no resistance to the stroke and retains no impression of its effect: their army dispersed at the moment to unite again on the same day or the next.

Exhaustion of the Moguls

But a defeat to the Moguls was attended with loss and humiliation; and even their partial success did not stop the waste of their resources and embarrassment of the finances of their government, which every day increased their difficulties and undermined their strength.

Sieges by the emperor in person

Aurangzib’s personal operations gave a promise of more solid advantage. He quitted his cantonment, to the great regret of his officers, who had

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Takes Sattara

April 1700

erected comfortable dwellings, and founded a sort of city; and, after reducing some other forts, he sat down before Sattara. By a dexterous feint he contrived to take that place unprepared: it nevertheless made a desperate defence, and did not surrender till the siege had lasted for several months.

Death of Raja Ram

Before it fell, Ram Raja had died, and had been succeeded by his son, Sevaji, under the regency of Tara Bai, the widow of the deceased and mother of the young raja. This event had little effect on the war.

Aurangzib goes on taking forts

Aurangzib went on with his plan; and in the course of the next four or five years had taken almost all the principal forts possessed by the Marattas. Many of the sieges were long and bloody317, and various expedients and stratagems were employed by both parties in the conduct of them; but they were too monotonous to bear description, and the result was as has been stated.

Spirit and perseverance of Aurangzib

In reviewing these laborious undertakings, it is impossible not to admire the persevering spirit with which Aurangzib bore up against the difficulties and misfortunes that overshadowed his declining years. He was near sixty-five when he crossed the Nerbadda to begin on this long war,

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Difficulties and hardships to which he was exposed

and had attained his eighty-first year before he quitted his cantonment at Birmapuri. The fatigues of marches and sieges were little suited to such an age; and in spite of the display of luxury in his camp equipage, he suffered hardships that would have tried the constitution of a younger man. While he was yet at Birmapuri, a sudden flood of the Bima overwhelmed his cantonment in the darkness of the night, and during the violence of one of those falls of rain which are only seen in tropical climates: a great portion of the cantonment was swept away and the rest laid under water; the alarm and confusion increased the evil; 12,000 persons are said to have perished, and horses, camels, and cattle without number. The emperor himself was in danger, the inundation rising over the elevated spot which he occupied, when it was arrested (as his courtiers averred) by the efficacy of his prayers. A similar disaster was produced by the descent of a torrent during the siege of Parli, the fort he took next after Sattara; and, indeed, the storms of that inclement region must have exposed him to many sufferings, during the numerous rainy seasons he spent within it. The impassable streams, the flooded valleys, the miry bottoms, and narrow ways, caused still greater difficulties when he was in motion; compelled him to halt where no provisions were to be had; and were so destructive to his cattle as sometimes entirely to cripple his army. The violent heats, in tents, and during marches, were distressing at

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other seasons, and often rendered overpowering by failure of water: general famines and pestilences came more than once, in addition to the scarcity and sickness to which his own camp was often liable; and all was aggravated by accounts of the havoc and destruction committed by the enemy in the countries beyond the reach of those visitations. But in all these discouragements Aurangzib retained his vigour.

His indefatigable industry

He alone conducted every branch of his government, in the most minute detail. He planned campaigns and issued instructions during their progress; drawings of forts were sent for him to fix on the points of attack; his letters embrace measures for keeping open the roads in the Afghan country, for quelling disturbances at Multan and Agra, and even for recovering possession of Candahar; and, at the same time, there is scarcely a detachment marches or a convoy moves in the Deckan without some orders from Aurangzib’s own hand.

His attention to details

The appointment of the lowest revenue officer of a district, or the selection of a clerk in an office, is not beneath his attention; and the conduct of all these functionaries is watched by means of spies and of prying inquiries from all comers, and they are constantly kept on the alert by admonitions founded on such information. This attention to particulars is not favourable to the real progress of business, any more than it is indicative of an enlarged genius; but, combined, as it was in Aurangzib, with unremitting vigilance in all the

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greater affairs of the state, it shows an activity of mind that would be wonderful at any age.

His distrust of all around him

These labours were the penalty he paid for his former offences against his father. The fate of Shah Jehan seems never for an instant to have been absent from his thoughts. To avoid a similar destiny, he retains all power and all patronage, and by removing his chiefs from place to place prevents their forming permanent connections with anybody but himself.

His management of his sons,

His sons are the constant objects of his observation and his management: he surrounds them with spies, gives them colleagues in command, places trustworthy persons in inferior situations about them, exercises an open control over all their proceedings; and at the same time never fails, by familiar and affectionate letters, and by constant presents and attentions, to conciliate their attachment and prevent their feeling the irksomeness of their situation.

And courtiers

To similar motives also, though partly to his natural disposition, must be attributed the considerate manner in which he treats his officers, and the sort of court which he appears to pay to all of them: he condoles with their loss of relations; inquires about their illnesses; confers honours in a flattering manner; makes his presents more acceptable by the gracious way in which they are given; and scarcely ever passes a censure without softening it by some obliging expression. His extreme leniency to all offences that do not touch his power or his religious prejudices seems also

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to have had its source in an unwillingness to make enemies, no less than in the real easiness of his temper. After all, he does not seem to have been successful in winning attachment; and with his sons, he seems at heart to have trusted much more to fear than affection. Though he released Moazzim after seven years’ imprisonment (1694), he seems always to have regarded him with dislike and apprehension. He sent him to the remote government of Cabul, constantly resisted his wishes to return, even for a time, and endeavoured to engage him in an expedition which might carry him to the most distant part of his province and might completely absorb his resources. He at first approved of the seizure of Cambakhsh, though afterwards convinced of his innocence; and his behaviour on one occasion to his favourite, Prince Azim, shows at once his policy in the management of his sons and his innate love of artifice and dissimulation. Having imbibed a suspicion that this prince was meditating independence, he sent for him to court; and as the prince made excuses and showed alarm, he offered to meet him slightly attended on a hunting party. Azim, on this, set out, and Aurangzib secretly surrounded the place of meeting with chosen troops: as the prince got more and more within his toils, the old emperor found a succession of pretences for requiring him gradually to diminish the number of his attendants, until, when he reached the place where his father was, they were reduced to three persons.

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As nobody offered to undertake the duty, he was obliged to leave two of his companions to hold his horses; and he with the remaining attendant were disarmed before they were admitted to the royal presence. On this he gave himself up for lost, and had no doubt that he was doomed to a long or perpetual imprisonment. But when he was introduced to his father, he was received with an affectionate embrace. Aurangzib, who was prepared for shooting, gave his loaded gun to him to hold, and then led him into a retired tent, where he showed him a curious family sword, and put it naked into his hand that he might examine it; after which he threw open his vest, on pretence of heat, but in reality to show that he had no hidden armour. After this display of confidence, he loaded Azim with presents, and at last said he had better think of retiring, or his people would be alarmed at his detention. This advice was not premature: Azim, on his return, found his whole camp on the point of breaking up, and his women weeping and lamenting his supposed fate. Whether he felt grateful for his easy dismission does not appear; but it is recorded that he never after received a letter from his father without turning pale, or recovered his composure until he had satisfied himself of the contents of it318.

Increased disorders of the state

But all Aurangzib’s arts and all his industry were insufficient to resist the increasing disorders

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of the state, which now pressed upon him from every quarter. The Rajputs were still in open hostility: their example had long since been followed by the Jats near Agra: against these last, as at a later period against some insurgents at Multan319, it had been necessary to send a force under a prince of the blood. Zulfikar’s force began to be exhausted, and the inefficacy of his former exertions became more and more apparent.

Successes of the Marattas

The Marattas seemed to multiply as the Mogul armies decayed: after reducing the Deckan to a desert, they had spread over Malwa and made a powerful inroad into Guzerat; leaving their traces every where, in pillaged towns, ravaged fields, and smoking villages.

The grand army still went on taking forts; but its last success was scarcely less ignominious than a defeat: it was the taking of Wakinkera, which, though only a fortified village, belonging to a chief of banditti, required the presence of the emperor and a siege of several months to subdue it. These acquisitions began at this time to be balanced by corresponding losses.

They begin to recover their forts

The Marattas were in a condition to attempt the recovery of their strong holds, and the forts which it had cost so many labours to gain, were one by one falling into their possession. As the calls on the grand army increased, its power went on to decline.

Exhausted state of the army

The troops became more timid than ever; the cattle were worn out

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and could not be replaced from the wasted state of the country; provisions failed from the same reason, and the means of obtaining them from, a distance were cut off by the emptiness of the treasury.

Disorder of the finances

Notwithstanding vast remittances from Hindostan, the finances had long since fallen into confusion; and as their state became more painful, Aurangzib withdrew his attention from them320. He was irritated by applications for arrears of pay, and used peevishly to answer such demands by saying that he did not want the troops, and if they were not pleased with his service they might quit it321. He even disbanded some bodies of horse, with the intention of easing the finances. But regular pay was indispensable to troops situated like his; and when it had been long withheld, they began to break into open mutinies, which were quieted by temporary expedients322.

Grand army hard pressed by the Marattas

All his difficulties were increased as the Marattas drew closer round the army. At times they plundered up to the very skirts of the camp, intercepted

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the supplies, carried off the cattle, cut up the foragers, insulted the pickets, and made it impossible for any one to show his head out of the lines without a powerful escort. If an ordinary detachment was sent to check them, they repelled or destroyed it. If a great effort was made, they vanished, and perhaps did not again appear till they had plundered some distant town, and left time for their pursuers to weary themselves by forced marches in a wrong direction323. They now treated the power of the emperor with derision. Those in his service mixed and feasted with those opposed to him, and on such occasions they used to mimic the pompous manners and devout ejaculations of the Mussulmans, and to pray with mock solemnity for long life to their best patron, Aurangzib. So low was the emperor reduced, that he was persuaded by Cambakhsh to authorise overtures to the enemy; and if the negotiations had not been broken off by the exorbitance and insolence of the Marattas, he would probably have agreed to release Saho Raja, and grant (in such forms as might save his dignity) an annual per centage on the revenue of the Deckan.

Retreats to Ahmednagar

Aurangzib’s last military operation was a retreat to Ahmednagar, the nature of which may be conceived from his exhausted cattle and dispirited troops. All hurried on in disorder and dejection, deafened with the incessant firing kept up by the

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marksmen, alarmed by the shouts and charges of the lancers, and every moment expecting a general attack to complete their dispersion and destruction. Such, indeed, was the fate of a portion of the army; and it is a subject of pious exultation to the Mussulman historians that the emperor himself escaped falling into the hands of the enemies whom he had once so much despised324.

Ahmednagar, from whence, twenty years before, he had marched in so much power and splendour on his conquests, received the remains of his ruined greatness, and was soon to witness the close of his earthly career.

Declining health of the emperor

His health had, of late, become gradually impaired; he with difficulty overcame one illness that threatened his life; and although he continued his public appearance and his attention to business, his spirit at length began to sink under the accumulated burden of anxiety and disease. On reaching Ahmednagar, he said he had now come to the end of all his journeys; and from his last letters we perceive, at once, the extent of his bodily sufferings, the failure of his hopes in this world, and his dread of that to come.

His fears of encountering the fate of Shah Jehan

The remembrance of Shah Jehan seemed to haunt him more than ever; he nowhere expresses remorse for his share in that monarch’s fate, but he shows by all his actions how much he fears that a like measure may be meted out to him.

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His suspicions of his sons

Prince Moazzim having proposed some arrangements which common prudence required at such a crisis, he interprets them into a design to seize on the government while he was yet alive. When a letter from Prince Azim was read to him, entreating permission to come to Ahmednagar, on the ground that the air of Guzerat was ruining his health, he abruptly remarked, “That is exactly the pretext I used to Shah Jehan in his illness;” and added, that “no air was so unwholesome as the fumes of ambition:” and although afterwards prevailed on by Azim’s importunity to allow him to pay him a visit on his way to his new government of Malwa, yet one of the last exertions of his authority was, to compel the prince to proceed on his journey, and to prevent his finding any excuse for remaining about the court. He had just before sent off Cambakhsh to Bijapur; but this seems rather to have been done to gratify Azim than from any apprehensions of his own.

His alarms at the approach of death

These measures had not been long completed before he became sensible that his end was approaching. In this awful moment he wrote, or dictated, a letter to Prince Azim, in which his worldly counsels and his adieus are mixed with broken sentences giving utterance to the feelings of remorse and terror with which his soul was agitated, and which he closes with a sort of desperate resignation, – “Come what come may, I have launched my vessel on the waves.” “Farewell ! farewell! farewell!”

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He also wrote to his youngest, and, latterly, his favourite, son, Cambakhsh. His letter, as to a much younger man, is more one of advice and admonition than that to Azim. It shows that he retained his favourite habits to the last. “Your courtiers,” he says, “however deceitful, must not be ill-treated: it is necessary to gain your views by gentleness and art,” &c. Even in this letter, his sense of his own situation breaks out from time to time. “Wherever I look I see nothing but the Divinity.” “I have committed numerous crimes, and I know not with what punishments I may be seized.” ... “The agonies of death come upon me fast.” “I am going. Whatever good or evil I have done, it was for you325.” It must have been about the same time that he drew up a sort of will, which was found under his pillow on his death. He there recommends that Moazzim should be recognised as emperor, and that he and Azim should divide the empire, one taking the northern and eastern provinces, with Delhi for his capital; and the other, Agra, with all the country to the south and south-west of it, including all the Deckan, except the kingdoms of Golconda and Bijapur. These last were assigned to Cambakhsh326.

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His death and character

He expired on the 21st of February, 1707, in the eighty-ninth year of his life, and fiftieth of his reign327.

A native historian, impressed with the courage, wisdom, and ability of Aurangzib, is at a loss to account for the ill success of his reign. The real defect was in his heart. Had he been capable of any generous or liberal sentiment, he would have been a great prince; his subjects would not have been alienated by his narrow views in religion, nor would the powers of his officers have been cramped, and their zeal chilled, by a constant spirit of suspicion and distrust328. In alluding, for the last time,

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to his narrow views in religion, which contributed so largely to the ruin of his empire, it is well worth while to observe by how little direct persecution that evil result was produced. The Hindus seem rather to have been irritated by systematic discouragement than inflamed by acts of cruelty or oppression. They were excluded from office; they were degraded by a special tax; their fairs and festivals were forbidden; their temples were sometimes insulted and destroyed; and it was sufficient to procure the abolition of any ceremony or practice of the court that it seemed to give a countenance to their superstition: but it does not appear that a single Hindu suffered death, imprisonment, or loss of property for his religion, or, indeed, that any individual was ever questioned for the open exercise of the worship of his fathers. Yet such is the effect of mutual jealousy and animosity in matters of religion, that the most violent outrages have seldom raised up so obstinate a spirit of resistance as was engendered by the partiality and prejudices of this emperor.

Some hundreds of Aurangzib’s letters have been preserved, from which we may glean some particulars of his character, in addition to the great lines marked by his actions. With all his bigotry he was not superstitious. He cordially detests the Hindus, and has very little more good will towards the Shias; but he lays out no money on mosques or endowments, shows no sign of being under the influence of the recognised clergy, and often expresses

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his contempt for the assumed sanctity of fakirs and dervises.

His government is a system of continual mistrust: every man’s character is secretly investigated, and colleagues are so selected, that each may be a check on his neighbour; yet there never was a prince so much cheated or so ill served.

The coldness of his heart is conspicuous in the manner in which he receives the accounts of the death of his oldest and most intimate friends. In so long a life such events often occur, and they always draw forth some pious or philosophical reflection, followed up by strict orders to seize on the property of the deceased, to see that none is embezzled, to hunt out all deposits, and to be careful in recovering all outstanding debts.

His letters.

His letters almost invariably include some poetical quotation, or some verse from the Koran. They are sometimes familiar, and even jocose, especially those to his sons. One, written after he was eighty, ends with some burlesque verses, of two or three words long, each of which gives a ludicrous description of the present occupations of some one of the principal people about his court329.

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Gemelli Carreri, who saw Aurangzib in the seventy-eighth year of his age, describes him as of low stature, slender, and stooping with age, with a long nose and a round beard, the whiteness of which was more visible on his olive skin. He was dressed in plain white muslin, with one emerald of great size in his turban. He stood amidst his omrahs, leaning on a staff; received petitions; read them without spectacles, endorsed them with his own hand, “and, by his cheerful smiling countenance, seemed to be pleased with the employment330.”

Of all the kings of India, Aurangzib is the most admired among the Mussulmans. There are few who are quite blind to the lustre of Akber’s character, but fewer still whose deliberate judgment would not give the preference to Aurangzib.

Miscellaneous transactions

There are some unconnected events which should not be entirely omitted in an account of this reign.

The insurrection of the Jats has been mentioned; they are a Hindu people of the Sudra class, who inhabit a tract near Agra, of which the capital is Bhartpur. Though in an open country, and close to Agra and Mattra, they occasioned much embarrassment to the government even during this reign, and rose to so much greater consequence in

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those that followed, that at one time they were in possession of Agra; and were the last people in the plains of India that have offered any serious obstacle to the British power.

In the thirty-eighth year of the king’s reign, 1693, a ship bound from Surat to Mecca with pilgrims, which Khafi Khan describes as carrying 80 guns331, and furnished with 400 muskets, was attacked by an English ship of small size. A gun burst on board the king’s ship; the English boarded, and “although the Christians have no courage at the sword, yet by bad management the vessel was taken.”

On this Aurangzib ordered the English factors at his ports to be seized, and directed the Abyssinians to take Bombay.

The English retaliated by seizing the king’s officers, and the Abyssinians, who (by Khafi Khan’s account) where on a friendly footing with them, showed no inclination to break it off. At length Khafi Khan himself was sent on a mission from the viceroy of Guzerat to Bombay. He describes his reception as being conducted with great dignity and good order, and with a considerable display of military power. He negotiated with elderly gentlemen in rich clothes, and, although they sometimes laughed more heartily than became so grave

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an occasion, yet he seems to have been favourably impressed with their acuteness and intelligence. The English alleged, apparently with truth, that the king’s ship had been taken by pirates, for whom they were not answerable; and explained their coining money in their own king’s name (which was another complaint against them) by stating that they had to purchase investments at places where the Mogul’s money did not pass.

Nothing is stated to have been settled on this occasion; but it appears from other sources that the English compounded for some pecuniary payments332.

It is curious that Khafi Khan (though, in this case, he relates a transaction of small moment in which he was personally engaged) takes no notice of the war made on Aurangzib by the English on both sides of India, which was of so much consequence in the history of the East India Company. He did not foresee the future importance of those unskilful antagonists.


317. Aurangzib writes thus of one of them to his son, Prince Azim: “You will have received accounts of the calamities of the siege of Kelna, and of the unheard-of condition and intolerable sufferings of the followers of Islam. Praise be to God that the afflictions of this devout band have at length been brought to a conclusion.” He then prays for happy results, and ascribes the past disasters to a judgment on his own wickedness and neglect. (Thirty-eighth note of the “Dastur ul Aml.”)

318. Khafi Khan.

319. Probably the Siks, under Guru Govind.

320. Aurangzib’s letters, and Khafi Khan.

321. Khafi Khan. The army was for a long time very regularly paid. Gemelli Carreri, in 1695, says the troops were paid punctually every two months, and would not bear any irregularity.

322. He writes, on one occasion, to Zulfikar Khan, that he is stunned with the clamours of “these infernal foot soldiers,” who are croaking like crows in an invaded rookery. In another letter he reminds him of the wants of the exchequer, and presses him to search for hidden treasures, and to hunt out any that may have fallen into the hands of individuals. Many of his notes dwell on his pecuniary embarrassments.

323. Bondela Narrative, in Scott’s “Deckan,” vol. ii.

324. Grant Duff; vol. i. p. 409.

325. I have taken the translation in Scott’s “Deckan,” vol. ii. page 8. of the Memoirs, though the original of it must have differed in some slight particulars from the Persian copy at the India House.

326. He left another will, seemingly prepared when under less agitation. It contains some general maxims of government, and instructions about his funeral; the expense of which was to be defrayed by a sum of four rupees and a half (about ten shillings), saved from the price of caps which he had made and sold. Eight hundred and five rupees, which he had gained by copying Korans, was to be given to the poor. (See Asiatic Register for 1801.)

327. These are solar years. He was born the 15th Zi Caad, 1027, about the end of October, 1615. (Khafi Khan. Gladwin’s Jehangir, p. 45.)

328. “Of all the house of Teimur, indeed of all the kings of Delhi, none since the time of Secander Lodi ever appeared so distinguished, in point of devotion, austerity, and justice; and in courage, patience, and sound judgment, he was without a peer: but as, from reverence to the injunctions of the Divine law, he did not inflict punishment, and as without punishment no country can be kept in order – in consequence, also, of the dissensions arising from rivalry among his nobles – every plan and design which he formed came to little good, and every enterprise drew into delay, and never attained its object. Though he had lived ninety years, yet none of his five senses were at all impaired, except his hearing in a small degree, but not so that others could perceive it.” (Khafi Khan.)

329. There are three collections of his letters – First, the “Kalamat i Taibat,” published by one of his chief secretaries, Enayat Ullah; second, the “Rokaimi i Karaim,” by the son of another secretary; and, third, the “Dastur ul Aml Agahi,” collected from all quarters, thirty-eight years after his death. The two first collections profess to be merely the rough drafts or notes which he wrote with his own hand for his secretaries. Most of the third collection have the same appearance. They are without dates or order, and are often obscure, from their brevity and our ignorance of the subjects alluded to.

330. Gemelli Carreri, in Churchill, vol. iv.

331. The number is probably not exaggerated, though the guns must have been light. Some of the Company’s ships of 600 tons carried seventy guns. (See Macpherson’s Commerce of India, p. 133.)

332. Grant Duff.

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
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