On the death of Aurungzebe, prince Azim, who had been banished through his father’s dread of being treated by his own sons when weakened by disease, as he had treated Shah Jehan, immediately returned to the encampment, caused himself to be proclaimed emperor, and prepared to march to the capital; but his elder brother, Muazzim, with better reason, assumed the crown, and advanced from Cabul to meet his rival. His son, who had governed Bengal for eleven years, materially assisted his cause by opportunely bringing up eight crores of rupees which he had amassed during that period. The two armies met in the neighbourhood of Agra, when prince Azim was defeated and fell, together with two of his sons. Zulfikar, who had remained neuter during the engagement, at once declared for the victor. It only remained to dispose of the pretension of the youngest son of the late emperor, Cam buksh, who was assembling troops in the Deccan. Zulfikar marched against him with a contingent of Mahrattas, and defeated him. He died shortly after of his wounds, and Muazzim, who was left the undisputed master of the empire, assumed the title of Bahadoor Shah.
The Mahrattas, who had baffled the power of Aurungzebe for thirty years, were now weakened by intestine discord. Tara Bye, the widow of
Ram raja held the reins of government for seven years, in the name of her son. Sahoo, the son of Sambajee, the legitimate heir to the throne, had been for seventeen years a captive in the Mogul camp, where he had been treated with great kindness by the emperor, who married him to the daughters of two of the principal Mahratta sirdars in his service. Prince Azim, when setting out to seize the prize at Delhi, adopted the sage advice of Zulfikar, and not only granted Sahoo his liberty but furnished him with assistance to assert his claim to the Mahratta throne, on condition that he should hold it as a vassal of the empire. Tara Bye immediately proclaimed him an impostor, and collected an army to oppose him; but he succeeded in obtaining possession of Satara, and in March, 1708, assumed the functions of royalty. In this family contest, the great Mahratta chieftains embraced opposite sides, and drew their swords against each other; a happy event for the neighbouring provinces. At the end of five years, Sevajee, the son of Tara Bye, died, and her minister seized the opportunity of superseding her authority, and placing another of the sons of Ram raja, Sambajee, on the throne at Kolapore, which, from that period became the seat of the younger branch of the royal family, and the rival of Satara.
Zulfikar Khan was rewarded for his adherence to Bahadoor Shah with the vice-royalty of the Deccan, which he committed to the care of Daood Khan, while he himself continued to reside at the capital. Daood Khan was a Patan of noble birth, famous throughout the Deccan for his matchless courage, and his love of strong drink. He paid frequent visits to Madras, and did not hesitate to partake of English hospitality. The Madras President always “took care to supply him with liquors, because he was so generous under their influence.” It is recorded that in 1701, Mr. Pitt, the father of Lord Chatham, who then occupied that post, gave him a grand entertainment in the Council Chamber, when the Patan “pledged the chief largely in cordial waters and French brandy, amidst a discharge of cannon.”
Zulfikar. who was desirous of cultivating peace with the Mahrattas, of whom he had been the most formidable foe in the field for fifteen years, authorized his lieutenant to offer Sahoo the chout which the Mahrattas had so long extorted by violence. Though the concession came only from a local officer, and was not therefore conclusive, it was not the less prized by the Mahratta cabinet, as the first legitimate title they had been able to acquire to their exactions. The tranquillity of Rajpootana was secured by the same spirit of concession to its three principal rajas.
These arrangements which clearly indicated the growing weakness of the empire, appear to have been hastened by the inroads of the Sikhs in the north. Nanuk, the founder of the Sikh community, who flourished about the close of the fifteenth century, taught, that devotion was due to God, but that forms were immaterial, and that the worship of the Hindoos and the Mahomedans was equally acceptable to the deity. The sect which he founded gradually increased in numbers for a century, and became an object of detestation to the bigoted Mahomedans, who massacred its pontiff in 1606. In 1675, Gooroo Govind, the tenth spiritual chief in succession from Nanuk, conceived the idea of forming the Sikhs into a military, as well as a religious, commonwealth. He abolished all distinction of caste, and admitted all converts to perfect equality; but every member of the body was required to be a pledged soldier from his birth, or his initiation. He inculcated reverence for the Hindoo gods and brahmins, and prohibited the slaughter of kine. After a long struggle with the Mahomedans, he saw his strongholds captured, his mother and children destroyed, and his followers slaughtered, mutilated, or dispersed. These severities exasperated the fanaticism of the Sikhs, and planted an inextinguishable hatred of the Mahomedans in their minds. Under a new chief, of the name of Bandoo, they issued from their retreats, overran the Punjab, and, if we are to believe the Mahomedan historians, committed unheard of atrocities.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, they had extended their inroads, on the one side to Lahore, and on the other to Delhi; and Bahadoor Shah marched against them in person and drove them back to the hills. He died on his return to Lahore, in February, 1712, after a brief reign of five years, at the age of seventy-two.
His death was immediately followed by the usual contest among his sons, which terminated in the defeat and death of three of them, when the survivor mounted the throne, and assumed the title of Jehander Shah. One of the earliest acts of his reign, was to put to death all the princes of the blood royal within his reach. He appointed Zulfikar Khan, who had supported him through the conflict to the post of vizier, while he resigned himself to the most degrading pleasures, and raised the relatives of a dancing girl who had become his favourite mistress, to the highest honours in the state. But his ignoble career was speedily cut short by his nephew, Ferokshere, who had escaped the massacre of his family, by his absence in Bengal, of which he was the viceroy. He advanced with an army of 70,000 men, and defeated the emperor in the neighbourhood of Agra. The noble Zulfikar Khan, the last of the great captains of the Mogul dynasty, whose ancestors had served it in the highest offices for more than a century, was basely strangled by the orders of Ferokshere, and the wretched Jehander Shah was put to death after a reign of six months.
Ferokshere, the most contemptible, as yet, of any of the princes of his line, ascended the throne in 1713, and dishonoured it for six years by his vices and his cowardice. He owed his elevation to the exertions of two brothers, Hussein Ali, the governor of Behar, and Abdoolla Khan, the governor of Allahabad, generally denominated the Syuds, to denote their descent from the Prophet, and his reign was little else but a series of machinations to destroy them. The one was advanced to the post of vizier, and Hussein Ali was appointed commander-in-chief. They were both men
of talent and valour, but, as they monopolised all power, they incurred the jealousy of the emperor and the enmity of his favourites. Immediately on his accession Ferokshere made a native of Mooltan, who had been a cazee at Dacca, his chief confidant, and under his influence sent Hussein Ali against Ajeet Sing, the raja of Joudhpore, in the hope that the expedition might prove fatal to him. But he disappointed his enemies by concluding an honourable peace with the raja, and inducing him to give one of his daughters in marriage to the emperor. The nuptials, which were celebrated at Delhi with extraordinary splendour, have become memorable in the history of British India by the patriotic conduct of a British surgeon, the particulars of which will be given in a future chapter.
Daood Khan, who had governed the Deccan as the deputy of Zulfikar Khan, was removed after the destruction of his patron, and sent as governor to Guzerat. The agreement he had made with the Mahrattas regarding the chout and other dues fell to the ground on his removal and they began to collect them again by violence. The office of soobadar of the Deccan was bestowed on the son of Ghazee-ood-deen, who has been already mentioned in connection with the siege of Beejapore in 1686. The family had emigrated from Turkey, or rather Tartary, to seek its fortunes in India, and belonged to a clique of officials at the capital who were commonly designated the Tooranee nobles. Chin Kilich Khan, the new soobadar, rose to distinction in the court of Aurungzebe, by whom he was decorated with the titles of Asof-Jah and Nizam-ool-moolk. As it was on this occasion that he laid the foundation of the kingdom of Hyderabad, we shall anticipate the period of his independence by designating him henceforward as the Nizam. He was a statesman of great experience and ability, but of still greater subtlety. During the seventeen months of his incumbency he fomented the dissensions between the rival houses of Kolapore and Satara, and thus established some check on the ravages of the Mahrattas. Sahoo was induced to acknowledge himself
a vassal of the emperor, and though in his own circle he assumed the title of king of the Hindoos, in the court calendar he was ranked as a Mogul commander of 10,000.
The increasing contentions of these two branches of the family of Sevajee had created such anarchy as to bring the Mahratta state to the verge of rain, when the genius of Balajee Vishwunath placed the party of Sahoo in the ascendant, and rekindled the smouldering energies of the nation. Balajee was originally a simple karkoon, or village accountant, but rose through various gradations of office till he reached the dignity of Peshwa, or chief minister. It was to his energy that the rapid expansion of the Mahratta power, when it had reached the limit of depression, is to be attributed, and he may justly be regarded as the second founder of its greatness.
The Nizam was discharged from the office of viceroy of the Deccan to make room for Hussein Ali, one of the Syuds, who was sent thither to remove him from the court. Instructions were at the same time given to Daood Khan to offer him the most strenuous but covert opposition, and the reversion of the appointment was held out to him as the reward of success. But Daood Khan was too daring and impetuous for any subterfuge, and he determined to bring the dispute to an immediate issue. He accordingly met Hussein Ali with his own veteran force, and attacked him with such fury as to scatter his forces like a flock of sheep. But in the moment of victory a cannonball struck him dead, and the fortune of the day was changed. His devoted wife, a Hindoo princess, on hearing of his fate, stabbed herself to the heart. The memory of his reckless courage and his chivalrous exploits is still preserved in many a ballad and proverb in the Deccan. Hussein Ali, flushed with this victory, took the field against the Mahrattas, but was completely defeated, and they immediately extended their encroachments and enlarged their claims. The emperor, anxious only for the destruction of his own obnoxious general,
gave them every encouragement to resist him, and promised to reward them if they were successful.
Hussein Ali, distracted on the one hand by the incessant plots hatched against him at Delhi. and on the other by the depredations of the Mahrattas, who were stimulated by the court, adopted the desperate resolution of winning them over to his cause by concessions. He entered into negotiations with the Mahratta cabinet, which were conducted with consummate skill by Balajee Vishwunath, and resulted in a convention as advantageous to the Mahrattas as it was disgraceful to the Moguls. Sahoo was acknowledged as the independent sovereign of the districts comprised in the family jaygeer, and of subsequent conquests. The “fourth” and the “tenth” of the revenues of the six soubahs of the Deccan, and of the tributary states of Tanjore, Mysore, and Trichinopoly, were bestowed on him on condition that he should, in addition to the usual fee on such grants, pay an annual tribute of ten lacs of rupees, furnish a contingent of 15,000 troops, and become responsible for the peace of the Deccan.
This was the greatest stride to power the Mahrattas had yet made, and it fulfilled the fondest wishes of the founder of this system of spoliation. It furnished them with a large and permanent revenue, for though the six soubahs had been exhausted by the incessant ravages of war, the assignment granted to the Mahrattas was, at their dictation, calculated on the sum of 18 crores, which those provinces had yielded in the years of peace and prosperity. It would apparently have been more to the pecuniary advantage of the Mahrattas to exchange assignments spread over a country which extended from sea to sea, and from the Nerbudda to Cape Comorin, for a compact territory. But the great object of the Peshwa was to render the claims of the Mahratta nation as complicated, as extensive, and as vague as possible, and thus to acquire a right of constant interference in the revenue administration of the entire Deccan,
well knowing that the interpretation of its demands would rest with the strongest. This famous convention gave a new impulse to the Mahratta policy, and at the same time placed the government more exclusively in the hands of the cabinet of brahmins at Satara, of whom the Peshwa was the head. It likewise provided congenial employment for a host of Mahratta officers, who were now planted in every district of the south to collect the tribute, with every motive to multiply their exactions.
This convention enabled Hussein Ali to with-draw his armies from the Deccan, and to march to Delhi. The emperor was advised to disallow the treaty, and the breach between him and the Syuds became wider. Hussein Ali hastened to the capital to restore the ascendancy of his family, accompanied by Balajee Vishwunath, and 10,000 select Mahratta horse. A confederacy which included the chief ministers of state, was formed by the emperor for the destruction of the brothers, but he had not the courage necessary for such an enterprise, and had, moreover, come under the influence of a new favourite. Hussein Ali was therefore enabled to march into the city with little opposition. Ferokshere made the most abject submissions, but was dragged from the recesses of the seraglio where he had taken refuge, and privately assassinated.
Two puppets were successively placed on the vacant throne by the triumphant Syuds, but they disappeared by poison or disease in a few months, when Rustum Khan, a grandson of Aurungzebe, was made emperor, and assumed the title of Mahomed Shah, the last who deserved the name of emperor of India. Weak and despicable as Ferokshere had been on the throne, his tragic death created great sympathy throughout the country, and the popular indignation against his assassins was manifested by risings and rebellions in various districts; but the greatest subject of disquietude to the brothers arose from the conduct of the Nizam. Though he had joined the Syuds against the
late emperor, he was alienated from their interests by being nominated to the inferior post of governor of Guzerat, when he had every reason to expect the viceroyalty of the Deccan. He began to collect troops, on the plea of restoring order in the province assigned to him, but in reality to establish his own power in the south, where he had many adherents, both among the Mahrattas and the Mahomedans.
He marched southward with 12,000 men, and having captured the important fortress of Asseergur, and overrun Candesh, defeated two armies which were sent against him, and thus became master of his position.
Meanwhile the young emperor was fretting under the yoke of the Syuds, and, under the discreet guidance of his mother, formed a combination among the nobles of his court to release himself from their power. The plot, which embraced some of the most eminent of the courtiers, could not be concealed from the brothers; but they were distracted by the difficulties which surrounded them on every side. At length it was resolved that Hussein Ali should march against the Nizam, taking the emperor with him, and that Abdoolla should return to Delhi, the court being then at Agra, to look after the family interests. Five days after the army had commenced its march, a savage Calmuck, who had been selected to strike the blow, approached the palankeen of Hussein Ali, on pretence of presenting a petition, and stabbed him to the heart. In the conflict which necessarily ensued, the partisans of the emperor were victorious, and the army marched back to Delhi. Abdoolla, hearing of his brother’s fate, set up a new emperor, and marched to encounter Mahomed Shah, but he was entirely defeated, though his life was spared in consideration of his august lineage.
Mahomed Shah, now a free monarch, entered his capital with great pomp a twelvemonth after he had been elevated to the throne, and made a liberal distribution of offices. The odious jezzia, the tax on infidels, was abolished. The Rajpoot rajas of Joudhpore and
Jeypore were promoted to governorships; while the raja of Oodypore, still isolated by his orthodox dignity, refused all intercourse with the court, and sunk into contempt.
Sadut Ali, a Khorasan merchant, who had raised himself by his talents to the charge of Biana, was made soobadar of Oude, where he founded the royal dynasty which was extinguished in 1856.
The office of vizier was reserved for the Nizam, who came up from the Deccan to assume the control of public affairs. But he found the new emperor utterly unworthy of his station, immersed in pleasures, and so besotted with a favourite mistress as to have given her the custody and use of the royal signet. He endeavoured to rouse Mahomed Shah to a sense of his duties as the head of a great empire which was exposed on every side to danger. But his master turned a deaf ear to this sage counsel, and listened with more delight to the advice of his dissolute companions, who amused him by turning the antiquated habits and solemn manner of the venerable statesman, then in his seventy-fifth year, into ridicule.
The courtiers, to rid themselves of the presence of the vizier, sent him against the refractory governor of Guzerat, whom their own folly had driven into rebellion. He quelled the revolt at once by his tact, and returned to the capital, where, however, he did not long remain. Disgusted with the weakness and profligacy of the court, and despairing of any reform, he threw up his office, and proceeded to the Deccan. The emperor loaded him with honours on his departure, but at the same time instigated the local governor of Hyderabad, Mobariz Khan, to resist his authority, and held out the reversion of the, viceroyalty as a bait. The Nizam defeated Mobariz, and sent his head to Delhi, congratulating the Court on the extinction of the revolt.
He then fixed on Hyderabad, the ancient capital of the Kootub-Shahee dynasty, as the seat of his government, and from this period may be dated the rise of the Nizam’s dominion.
Balajee Vishwunath, as already stated, had accompanied Hussein Ali with a Mahratta contingent to Delhi, and, on the accession of Mahomed Shah, obtained the imperial confirmation of the grants of the “fourth” and the “tenth,” and returned in triumph with the invaluable charters, fourteen in number, to Satara, where he soon after died. Before his death he completed the arrangements for the collection of the assignments he had acquired, and established a system of the most intricate subdivision of interests, by which ample provision was made for a whole army of Mahratta officials. A preponderating power was than given to the cabinet of brahmins at Satara, which eventually resulted in the transfer of all the authority of the state to their chief, the Peshwa.
He was succeeded in his office by his son Bajee Rao, who exhibited in the highest degree the enterprise of the Mahratta character, and in talent and vigour proved to be second only to Sevajee. The interest of the succeeding twenty years of the history of India centres in the alliances, and disputes, and strategy of the young Mahratta statesman of Satara, and the subtle old Turk at Hyderabad, who made peace and war without any reference to the emperor at Delhi.
The impetuosity of Bajee Rao’s character led him to propose the boldest schemes of ambition to his master Sahoo. He felt that unless employment could be found abroad for the large body of predatory horse which formed the sinews of the Mahratta power they would be engaged in mischief at home. Fully aware of the decay of the Mogul power, he urged the king “to strike the trunk of the withering tree, the branches must fall of themselves. Now is our time to drive strangers from the land of the Hindoos, and to acquire immortal renown. By directing our efforts to Hindostan the Mahratta flag in your reign shall fly from the Kistna to the Attok.” “You shall plant it on the Himalayu,” replied Sahoo. But he had been bred in the luxury of a Mahomedan seraglio, and had lost the boldness
and energy of the Mahratta character. Bajee Rao found that his own ardour was ill seconded by his sovereign, and was constrained to act under his own discretion; and thus the house of Sevajee waxed weaker, and the house of the Peshwa waxed stronger.
The Nizam had appointed his uncle, Humeed Khan, his representative in Guzerat, in opposition to the court at Delhi. The court appointed Sir-boolund Khan governor of the province, with directions to extinguish this revolt. With the aid of two Mahratta commanders, Kantajee and Peelajee, Humeed Khan was enabled to defeat the Mogul armies, and rewarded them with a grant of the “fourth” and the “tenth” of the revenues of Guzerat. Bajee Rao took advantage of this discord, and renewed his excursions into Malwa, granting Sindia, Holkar, and Powar of Dhar, commissions to levy chout in that province, while he himself proceeded to the south, and exacted contributions from the ruler at Seringapatam. Alarmed by the increasing audacity of the Peshwa’s depredations, the Nizam endeavoured to revive the dissensions of the rival houses of Kolapore and Satara. Sambajee claimed his share of the assignments which had been granted to the Peshwa, Balajee Vishwunath, on the six soubahs of the Deccan, and the Nizam, as the official representative of the emperor, called on both parties to produce their titles and substantiate their claims before him. Sahoo and his cabinet were filled with indignation by what they deemed an insolent attempt to interfere in their domestic quarrels. Bajee Rao instantly assembled a large army, and marched against the Nizam, who was likewise supported by a large body of Mahrattas, but he was driven into a position where the want of provisions constrained him to enter into negotiations, which terminated more favourably than could have been expected.
The singular moderation of the Peshwa on this occasion, when the Nizam was at his mercy, was not without a cause. He was at the time negotiating with Sir-boolund Khan, the imperial governor of Guzerat,
who had succeeded in establishing his authority, for the chout and other assignments which had been granted to the two Mahratta officers already mentioned, and, to expedite the bargain, sent his brother to lay the country waste. Sir-boolund at length found it expedient to purchase some measure of peace by yielding to these demands The concession was, however, more restricted than that which had been granted by Hussein Ali, and confirmed by Mahomed Shah. The shout was to be calculated on the actual amount of collections; only two or three officers were to be placed in each district to collect the dues; no other exactions were to be inflicted on the ryots, and every assistance was to be given to the imperial authority. From these limitations we are enabled to perceive how greatly the Mahrattas had abused the power conferred on them by the charters which they obtained eight years before. Never was a more flagitious and intolerable system of extortion invented by human ingenuity than that which the genius of Sevajee had devised, and which the Mahrattas considered it their mission to extend over the whole of India.
While Bajee Rao was employed in settling his demands on Guzerat, Sambajee crossed the Wurna and plundered the territory of his rival, Sahoo He was, however, subsequently defeated, and obliged to sign an acknowledgment of his cousin’s right to the entire Mahratta territory, with the exception of a small tract around Kolapore, to which his branch of the royal family was thenceforward to be confined, and thus ended the dissensions of twenty years. The Nizam, foiled in his attempt to weaken the Mahrattas by internal discord, found a new instrument of mischief in Dhabarry, the Mahratta commander-in-chief. He had been intrusted with the Mahratta interests in Guzerat, and was mortified to find that the chout and other dues in his own province had been carried off by Bajee Rao. Under a feeling of resentment and at the instigation of the Nizam, he marched towards Satara with 35,000 men, with the avowed object of releasing Sahoo from the tyranny of the Peshwa, but
he was defeated by an inferior force, and fell in battle. The influence of his rival was increased in no small degree by this attempt to destroy it.
But the Peshwa acted with generosity, and conferred the office which had been held by Dhabarry on his son, an infant, and entrusted the management of affairs to Peelajee Guickwar, whose immediate ancestor was a cow-herd, and whose descendants now occupy the throne of Baroda.
To this period also belongs the rise of the families of Holkar and Sindia, destined to take a prominent share in the politics of India. Mulhar Rao Holkar was the son of a herdsman, but, being a youth of adventurous disposition, exchanged the crook for the sword, and by his daring courage recommended himself to Bajee Rao, who entrusted him with the charge of levying contributions in eighty-four districts or villages in Malwa. Ranojee Sindia, though said to be allied to the noblest families in Rajpootana, was of the caste of cultivators, and entered the service of Balajee Vishwunath as a menial servant. It is related that on one occasion his master, returning from an interview with the raja Sahoo, found his attendant asleep on his back with the slippers firmly grasped in his hand. Struck with his fidelity in so humble an occupation, the Peshwa introduced him into his body-guard. He soon became one of the foremost of the Mahratta chieftains, and, like Holkar, received assignments on the districts of Malwa, which formed the nucleus of the family domain.
After the defeat of Dhabarry, the Peshwa and the Nizam came to a mutual understanding for the promotion of their respective interests, and it was agreed that Bajee Rao should be at liberty to plunder the Mogul territories in the north without restraint, and that the Nizam’s possessions in the south should not be molested by the Mahrattas. In fact, the Nizam, the representative of the emperor in the Deccan, purchased peace by letting the Mahrattas loose on the dominions of his sovereign
beyond the Nerbudda. Bajee Rao crossed that river in 1732, and laid waste the devoted province of Malwa. The Mogul governor, Mahomed Bungush, was engaged at the time in besieging a refractory chief in Bundlecund, who invoked the aid of Bajee Rao. Bungush was soon, in his turn, besieged, and was rescued only by the prompt arrival of his countrymen from Rohilcund. The Bundlecund raja evinced his gratitude to the Peshwa by bequeathing him a third of his territory of Jhansi; and thus was the Mahratta standard planted for the first time on the banks of the Jumna.
The government of Malwa was soon after conferred by the emperor on the Rajpoot prince, Jey Sing, whose reign was rendered illustrious by the encouragement of science and the erection of the beautiful city of Jeypore, with its palaces, halls, and temples, and, above all, its noble observatory. The profession of a common creed had promoted a friendly intercourse between the Mahratta and the Rajpoot chiefs, and Jey Sing, who was more of a scholar than a statesman, made over the whole province of Malwa to Bajee Rao, though not without the supposed concurrence of the feeble court of Delhi.
These concessions only served to inflame the ambition of Bajee Rao, and the necessities of his position constrained him to extend his aggressions. Great as were the resources of the Mahratta state, the greater portion of the revenue was absorbed by the chiefs who collected it, and only a fraction reached the national treasury. The magnitude of Bajee Rao’s operations had involved him in debt; the bankers were slow to make further advances; his troops were clamorous for their pay, and discipline was weakened by his inability to meet their claims. He therefore demanded of the imperial court a confirmation of the assignments on Guzerat which had been granted by Sir-boolund Khan, and of the recent cession of the province of Malwa, as his personal jaygeer. The emperor, or rather his minister, Khan Dowran, offered him an assignment of thirteen lacs of
rupees on the districts south of the Chumbul, with permission to levy tribute in Rajpootana, in the hope that this claim would embroil him with the Rajpoot princes. But Bajee Rao, having learnt from his agent at Delhi that all his demands were likely to be conceded with a little more pressure, immediately increased them, and did not scruple to claim the whole territory south of the Chumbul, the surrender of the holy cities of Benares, Gya, Muttra, and Allahahad, and the immediate payment of fifty lacs of rupees. The court endeavoured to appease him with smaller sacrifices, which he readily accepted, but without abating the price of his forbearance, or the progress of his army. Holkar crossed the Jumna, by his orders, and plundered the Dooab, but was driven back by Sadut Khan, the soobadar of Oude; and this success was magnified at Delhi into a grand victory, in which thousands of infidels were said to have perished. It was even reported that Bajee Rao had been obliged to retire. “I was compelled,” he wrote, “to tell the emperor the truth, and to prove to him that I was still in Hindoostan; to show him flames and Mahrattas at the gates of his capital.” He advanced towards Delhi by forced marches of forty miles a day. The consternation in the imperial city may well be conceived; but his object was not to sack the capital, but to intimidate the court into concessions, and circumstances rendered it advisable for him to withdraw. His moderation encouraged a party of eight thousand horse under some of the nobles to attack his camp, but they were easily repelled by Holkar. Bajee Rao now retired from the north, recrossed the Nerbudda, and proceeded to Satara.
The Mahrattas appeared now to be paramount in India, and the Nizam was considered by the emperor and his ministers, the only man who could save the empire from extinction. He himself perceived, when too late, the impolicy of his compact with Bajee Rao in 1732, which had enabled the Mahrattas to plunder the northern provinces without interruption, and augmented their power to
an extent which now threatened his own safety and that of every other Mahomedan potentate in India. He listened to the overtures of the court, and repaired to Delhi, where the government of Malwa and of Guzerat was conferred on him, and all the power and resources of the empire were placed at his disposal. But these resources were now reduced to so low an ebb that he could assemble an army of only 34,000 men, with which he moved down to Malwa, while the Peshwa advanced to oppose him with 80,000. Owing, perhaps, to his great age – be was now ninety-three – perhaps to an over-confidence in his artillery, which was esteemed the best in India, he intrenched himself near Bhopal, instead of boldly encountering the enemy in the field. Bajee Rao adopted the usual Mahratta system of warfare – laying waste the country around, intercepting all supplies, and harassing his opponent with incessant attacks. At length, on the twenty-fourth day from the commencement of the siege, the Nizam, receiving no reinforcements, while his enemy called up every Mahratta chief in the Deccan to his aid, was constrained to sign a humiliating treaty, granting to the victorious Mahratta the sovereignty of Malwa, and of all the territory up to the banks of the Chumbul, and engaging to use all his influence to obtain the grant of fifty lacs of rupees from the treasury at Delhi. But that treasure was to find a different destination.
It was in the midst of these distractions, which exhausted the strength of the empire, that Nadir Shah made his appearance on the banks of the Indus, and India was visited with another of those desolating irruptions to which it had been repeatedly subject during seven hundred years.
The Persian dynasty of the Sofis, which had lasted for two centuries, the usual term of Asiatic monarchies, was subverted in 1722 by the Ghiljies, the most powerful of the Afghan tribes. Shah Hussein, the last of that royal line, was blockaded by them in his capital, Ispahan, which had then attained the summit of prosperity,
and contained a population of 600,000. After the besieged had endured the greatest extremities of misery and want, the king with his court went out attired in deep mourning and gave himself up to Mahmood, the victorious chief, and placed the diadem on his brows. Mahmood, after a reign of two years, rendered execrable by his cruelties, left all his conquests to his son Asruf. Nadir Shah, the greatest warrior Persia has produced since the days of Darius, was the son of a shepherd of Khorasan. His enterprising spirit led him to collect a band of freebooters; their number increased with their success, and he soon found himself at the head of a formidable force, with which he freed Khorasan from the Abdalee Afghans who had overrun it. The Ghiljie king of Persia was the next to feel his power, and was obliged to resign all his father’s conquests in Persia. Nadir, after his first success, raised Thamasp, the son of the dethroned Sofi monarch to the throne; but when he had expelled the Turks and the Russians from the provinces they had occupied, and restored independence and dignity to his native land, he ascended the throne himself, on the assumed importunity of a hundred thousand of his subjects, – nobles, soldiers, and peasants, – assembled together on a vast plain to offer him the crown.
To find employment for his troops, and to gratify the resentment of his countrymen, he carried his arms into the country of the Ghiljies, by whom they had been oppressed; but Candahar was besieged for a twelvemonth before it surrendered. While engaged in the siege, Nadir sent a messenger to Delhi to demand the surrender of some of his fugitive subjects. The court was at the time distracted by the claims of Bajee Rao, and the demand was neglected. A second messenger was assassinated at Jellalabad. The government of India had, from time immemorial, been in the habit of paying an annual subsidy to the highlanders who occupy the passes between Cabul and Peshawur, and who were in a position to arrest the progress of any invader. In the confusion of the times the
payment of this black mail had been discontinued, and the highlanders now opened the gates of India to Nadir Shah, who crossed the Indus, on a bridge of boats, with 65,000 hardy veterans, and overran the Punjab before the court of Delhi was aware of his approach.
The emperor marched to Curnal to repel the invasion, but experienced a fatal defeat, and, being without the means of resistance, proceeded immediately to the Persian camp, and threw himself on the mercy of the conqueror. The object of Nadir was wealth, not conquest, and it has been affirmed, that he was prepared to retire on receiving a contribution of two crores of rupees; but Sadut Ali, the soobadar of Oude, who had been refused some favour by the emperor, sought revenge by representing to Nadir that this was a very inadequate ransom for an opulent empire, adding, that he was able to furnish such a sum from his own province alone. On this Nadir determined to levy the exactions under his own eye. He entered Delhi in March, 1739, in company with the emperor, and took up his residence in the palace. On the succeeding day a report of his death was spread abroad, and the citizens rose on the Persians, of whom a thousand perished in the tumult, which continued throughout the night. The next morning Nadir mounted his horse and went forth to restore order, but the first sight which met his eye was the mangled corpses of his soldiers; at the same time he himself was assailed with missiles from the windows, and a favourite officer was struck dead at his side. Unable any longer to restrain his fury, he issued orders for a general massacre of the inhabitants. For several hours the metropolis of India presented a scene of violence, lust, and bloodshed, and 8,000 are said to have fallen under the swords of the infuriated soldiery; yet so complete was Nadir’s discipline, that every sword was sheathed the moment he issued the order.
Nadir Shah now entered deliberately on the work of spoliation. He despoiled the emperor and his nobles of all their treasures and jewels, caused every house
to be searched and sacked, and spared no cruelty to extort confessions of wealth. Of the infamous Sadut Ali he demanded the whole of the sum which he had said his soubah was able to furnish, and the traitor terminated his existence by swallowing poison. The governors of the other provinces were likewise laid under heavy contributions. Having thus subjected Delhi to fifty-eight days of ruthless pillage, and exhausted, as he supposed, the wealth of the country, he prepared to take his departure with plunder estimated at thirty-two crores of rupees. Before his departure he reseated Mahomed Shah on the throne, but annexed all the countries west of the Indus to the crown of Persia. He likewise sent a circular to all the princes of India to acquaint them that he was moving to the conquest of other regions, and had replaced his dear brother Mahomed Shah on the throne of his extensive empire, and that if any report of their rebellion reached his ears, he would return and blot their names out of the book of creation.
The Mogul empire, which had been in a state of rapid decay for more than thirty years, since the death of Aurungzebe, received its death-blow from the irruption of Nadir Shah and the sack of the capital. Its prestige was irrecoverably lost, and the various provinces ceased to yield any but a nominal obedience to the throne of Delhi. All its possessions beyond the Indus were alienated to the crown of Persia. In the extreme south the Mogul authority was extinct in the principalities of Tanjore, Madura, and Mysore. The nabob of the Carnatic recognised no superior. The government of the Deccan was shared between the Nizam and the Mahrattas, and the Mahrattas had recently extended their ravages to the gates of Delhi. In the provinces of Guzerat and Malwa the authority of the emperor was trembling in the balance. The rajas of Rajpootana had ceased to be the vassals of the throne. The soobadars of Dude and Bengal acknowledged the emperor as the source of authority, but yielded him no obedience. Even in the immediate
vicinity of the metropolis new chiefs were, as the Mahomedan historian remarks, “beating the drum of independence.” Towards the close of Aurungzebe’s reign a tribe of sooders called Jauts emigrated from the banks of the Indus to the districts lying between Agra and Jeypore, and founded their capital, Bhurtpore, out of the plunder of the emperor’s camp equipage; and their leader, Chooramun, did not scruple to set the imperial authority at defiance. To the north of Delhi, a tribe of Rohilla Afghans, recently embodied under a circumcised Hindoo, were rapidly rising into importance. The house of Baber had accomplished the cycle of its existence, and the sceptre of India was about to pass into other hands. Having thus reached the verge of a new era, we turn to the origin and progress of the strangers to whose lot that sceptre was to fall, though at this period they were engaged in the peaceful pursuits of commerce, and dreaming of nothing so little as the establishment of an empire in India. The main stream of this narrative will now follow the fortunes of the British power, to which the history of the various kingdoms which rose upon the decay of the Moguls will be subsidiary. But, it may be useful to bear in mind, that, with the exception of the Rajpoot chiefs and the puppet emperor at Delhi, not one of the kingdoms which were subsequently absorbed in the British empire had been in existence even a quarter of a century when the English first took up arms in Hindostan.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage