OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z


Mediaeval and Modern History of Asia.
Pages: <1> 2 3 4

We must here deal in the most summary fashion with a subject needing volumes for detailed treatment. One of the greatest achievements in the world's history is shown in the conquest of the vast and populous territory of India and Burma by Great Britain, and the subjection of about 300,000,000 people, alien in their races, languages, customs, and religious beliefs, to the mild, just, peaceful, uniform, and, assuredly, beneficial sway of less than as many thousands of European soldiers and civilians. The ancestors of those Europeans were, at a remote date, prior to historical records, cognate in blood with the Aryan forefathers of many millions of the people of India, and this return to Asia, in conquering strength, of the flower of the Aryan race which came forth, as we have seen, thousands of years ago, from Asiatic uplands into southern and western Europe, is in itself a fact of the utmost interest. In early pre-historic times India was inhabited by aboriginal, non-Aryan peoples, some millions of whose descendants still exist, under the name of Santals, Bhils, Gonds, and by other designations, in the wilder hill-country. The beginnings of civilisation came with the influx of the Aryan race into the Punjab and the valley of the Ganges, perhaps between 2000 and 1500 b.c. The sacred verse of the books called Vedas, and the two great epic poems, the Maha Bharata and the Ramayana, written in the now dead Sanskrit language, show us these Hindus, as they are called from Hind, the basin of the river Indus, as a people worshipping gods who represented the powers of nature - the sky, the rain-vapour, fire, storm - with a chief deity styled Dyaus-pitar (Diespiter or Jupiter, in Latin), "the father of heaven." The native tribes were either enslaved or driven away to the mountains by the newcomers, who in course of time pushed southwards along the coasts of the Deccan and reached Ceylon. Many despotic kingdoms were founded, and there was a great development of royal power and priestly influence, the Brahmans, or priestly class, being the highest of the four castes, strictly separated in social matters. The old religion was superseded by the Brahmanic, a trinitarian system in which Brahma figures as the Creator, Vishnu as the Preserver, and Siva as both the Destroyer and the Reproducer, the philosophy of this last invention embodying the idea that death begins another life. The Brahmans were the possessors of all philosophy and learning, in which scientific grammar, and profound and ingenious speculation, were conspicuous, and the Indian astronomers, after learning from the ancient Greeks and improving on their acquirements, became fairly proficient, and teachers of the Arabs, in the 8th and 9th centuries of our era. Algebra and arithmetic (the decimal system) had their origin in India. In medical science the Brahman doctors showed some proficiency at an early date, but in the later times of Hinduism, after the 9th century of the Christian era, superstition forbade the Brahmans to touch blood, and surgical practice came to an end. In the 6th century b.c. a young prince named Gautama, leaving his father's court for an ascetic life in the jungle, became a religious reformer, and founded Buddhism, from his religious name Buddha, "the enlightened." Its morality was pure, and its ritual was simple and attractive in the offering of flowers, fruit, and incense, along with processional hymns and prayers. It was strongly antagonistic to Brahmanism in preaching the essential equality of all human beings. About the middle of the 3rd century b.c., when Buddhism had spread over northern India, it was adopted as the state-religion by a king of Behar, named Asoka, and until the end of the 8th century a.d. the two religions existed side by side. Then Buddhism began to suffer from a mysterious process of internal decay, so far as India was concerned, as well as from the active hostility of a Brahmanistic reaction, and by the end of the 9th century it had almost disappeared except in Kashmir and Ceylon, with an ample compensation of victory in other regions - Tibet, China, Japan, Burma, Siam - now containing over 300,000,000 followers of the faith.

In 327 b.c. India was brought into immediate contact with Europe by Alexander the Great's invasion of the Punjab, where he defeated a prince named Porus on the banks of the Hydaspes (Jhelum). Some cities were founded in the Punjab and Sind (Scinde), and a basis of Greek influence was laid. About 308 b.c. one of Alexander's successors, Seleucus Nicator, founder of the Syrian monarchy, was in alliance with a king of Behar named Chandra-gupta, and the Greek ambassador at his court, Megasthenes, gives us a description of the capital, Palimbothra (now Patna), and of the social system in his day. For many centuries after this date we have no records that are trustworthy in details. There were invaders of northern India vaguely described as "Scythians," in conflict with Indian monarchs at various times until the 6th century a.d., but no important effect was produced by these people, and the main fact is the firm establishment, on the decay of Buddhism, of the new form of Brahmanism called Hinduism, combining the old Vedic faith with Buddhism and with the ruder rites of the aboriginal peoples. It was the ingenious blending of religious elements that gave the reformed Brahmanism its permanent hold on the vast population of the peninsula.

Mohammedan invaders appeared early in the 8th century, but their only conquest at that time was Sind (Scinde), which was again in Hindu hands early in the 9th century. About a.d. 1002 a Turkish conqueror, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, a small territory in Kabul, appeared at Peshawur with his fierce predatory horsemen, and after many inroads and retreats, in which Hindu temples were plundered and idols destroyed, he conquered the Punjab. The territory was held by many of his successors, but towards the end of the 12th century the Afghans of Ghor, now a ruined town near Herat, conquered Ghazni, and the first Mohammedan dynasty in India proper was founded at Lahore by a descendant of Mahmud. The Moslem afterwards became masters in northern India, driving the Hindu princes away to found new kingdoms in the forests and hills to the south. Behar and Bengal were subdued by the followers of the Arabian prophet, and in the 13th and part of the 14th centuries Mohammedan sultans were ruling at Delhi, and Mohammedan invaders made their way to the south. A confused period of warfare due to Hindu reaction and revolt furnishes horrible records of massacre, famine, anarchy, and misrule, and in 1398 a new terror came in the invasion of Timour the Tartar (Tamerlane), ruling at Samarkand, who swept down on the Punjab and Hindustan (the territory between the Punjab and the Nerbudda), and retired into central Asia with a great booty after a year of massacre and plunder. In southern India, during this time and until the middle of the 16th century, we find a powerful Hindu realm called Narsinha or Vijanayagar, with a capital still to be traced by extensive ruins in the Bellary district of Madras Presidency. This empire was destroyed by the defeat and death, in 1565, at the great battle of Talikot, on the right bank of the Kistna, of its sovereign at war with some allied Mohammedan rulers in the Deccan.

A new phase of Indian history began with the advent of Mongol conquerors. Early in the 16th century Baber, a descendant of Tamerlane, was driven from Bokhara by Tartar invaders, and subdued an Afghan realm at Kabul. In 1526 this courageous, gay, and genial conqueror defeated and slew the Delhi sultan in the battle of Panipat, and in 1556 his grandson Akbar, in another fierce action at the same Panipat, on the wide plain 50 miles north of Delhi, defeated the Afghans who had driven out the Mughals. He then founded the Mughal (Mogul) Empire in the days of Elizabeth, reigning from 1556 till 1605. His conquests gave him the historic title of "Akbar the Great," well earned by a combination of courage, energy, skill in diplomacy and war, wisdom, and humanity, and by religious tolerance unrivalled in Oriental records. Rajputana, Gujerat, Bengal, Kashmir, and Sind (Scinde) were subdued by his arms, and many petty Moslem states and Hindu rajas were either directly ruled or were influenced through friendly treatment and marriage-connections. Before the close of the 16th century, Akbar was master of all the territory to the north of the Vindhyas, and westwards to Kabul and Kandahar. Hindus and Mohammedans were both employed alike in civil and military posts, and the maintenance of two separate armies enabled this politic ruler to send Hindus against Mohammedan foes or rebels, and Mohammedans against Hindu rajas. A skilful organiser, Akbar divided his empire into provinces, each under its own governor; settled the land, after survey and measurement, on a regular system for taxation by assessment according to produce; and established an administration of justice and police in his capital, Agra, and the chief towns. Towards the close of his reign the great Mughal sovereign failed in attempts at conquest in the Deccan. His son and successor, Sultan Jehangir, received a British envoy from James I. in the person of Sir Thomas Roe, who left a vivid description of the splendours of the court, and of the tyranny of the Oriental potentate. In 1627 Jehangir's son, Shah Jehan, began a reign of 30 years, during which Kandahar was finally lost to the Persians, and some Hindu kingdoms "in the Deccan were subdued. The empire was at the height of its power and splendour, but an ominous sign of the future appeared in the attacks of the formidable Mahrattas, mixed in race, Hindus in religion, living in the northern part of the Ghats extending from Surat towards Goa. The founder of the political power of these fierce freebooters was an able man named Sivaji, commanding a force of mounted spearmen. Before parting with Shah Jehan, who was deposed by his son Aurangzeb in 1658, we may note his eminence as a builder. By him was founded the modern city of Delhi still called by Mohammedans "Shah Jehanabad" or "city of Shah Jehan," with its grand Jama Musjid, or Great Mosque, and he is immortal as the erector of the fine mosques at Agra, the Jama Musjid and the Moti-Musjid ("Pearl Mosque"), and, especially, of the matchless Taj Mahal in the same city, a mausoleum dedicated to his favourite wife.

Aurangzeb, who reigned from 1658 to 1707, made some conquests towards the south, annexing Golconda and Bijapur, but he failed to subdue the confederate Mahrattas, who became the chief power in southern India. Early in the 18th century the Mahrattas were ruling from Poona to Tanjore, at Gwalior, in Gujerat, and in part of Berar. Their camp-fires were seen from the walls of Delhi; their horsemen swept over the rice-fields of Bengal. A line of rulers called Peshwas, really hereditary ministers of state, headed the Mahratta confederacy, with Poona as their capital, and under their attacks province after province was lost to the Mughal empire. Viceroys revolted from the emperor, and before the middle of the 18th century the Deccan had become independent under its former governor, the Nizam-ul-mulk ("regulator of the state"), and the Subahdar (viceroy) of Oudh practically defied his sovereign ruling at Delhi, while he maintained an outward show of allegiance. From this time the Mughal emperors had but a shadow of power. A terrible blow was inflicted by a Persian invasion under Nadir Shah, who captured Delhi in 1739, and gave the place up to pillage for weeks, retiring with a booty worth many millions. This was followed by Afghan invasions between 1748 and 1761, during which time Delhi and northern India were ravaged, and the Mahrattas, in a third battle of Panipat, were routed with fearful slaughter by the Afghan ruler, Ahmad Shah, in 1761. The power of the Peshwa at Poona rapidly declined, and the confederacy was broken up into five parts - the Peshwas, the Bhonslas of Nagpur, Sindhia of Gwalior, Holkar of Indore, and the Gaekwars of Baroda. The Mughal empire, as a political force, had come to an end, and the long struggle for the rule of India among Asiatic races - pre-Aryan, Aryan, Afghan, and Mughal - was to end in European supremacy.

Portuguese rule in the East was founded by the famous Alfonso da Albuquerque, who was viceroy of the Indian possessions from 1509 to 1515, and built the city of Goa, on an island of the same name, about the middle of the western coast. Before 1550 the Portuguese were also established at Diu, off the coast of Gujerat; at Cochin, in Malabar; and at Bassein, northwards from Bombay. Christianity was introduced with its churches and priests, monasteries and monks, Jesuit missionaries and the Inquisition, and efforts at conversion were made by word of mouth and by the use of force. Cruelty and superstition had their usual effects; the natives did not embrace the exotic faith, and the Portuguese had to encounter many attacks on their "factories" and forts. After enjoying a monopoly of the Indian trade during the 16th century, Portugal, conquered by Spain in her European possessions, began to decline in India before the Dutch and the English. In 1632 Hugli, a settlement not far from the site of Calcutta, was conquered by Shah Jehan, with the carrying off of the people as slaves to Agra. At the present time Portugal retains only Goa, Daman, and Diu, all on the west coast. During the 17th century the Dutch were foremost in maritime and commercial affairs, and their East India Company, founded in 1602, had trading settlements in India and Ceylon, but lost all their posts on the mainland in the course of the 18th century.

It was on the last day of the 16th century that some London merchants, jealous of Dutch enterprise in the Eastern trade, were incorporated, by a charter of Elizabeth, as the East India Company, and that famous body began its long and remarkable career, extending over more than two centuries and a half, during which they advanced from the position of mere merchants on Indian soil, existing there by permission of native potentates, to that of holders of great territorial sovereignty, makers of war and peace, wielders of naval and military force, possessors of a vast revenue and of very extensive and important patronage. Between 1612 and 1616 the Company, by the grant of the Mughal emperor Jehangir, established "factories" or trading-posts at Surat, Ahmedabad, and Cambay, on the west, with the privilege of introducing their merchandise at a fixed rate of duty. In 1641, by permission of native princes, a foothold was obtained on the Coromandel (south-eastern) coast, and Fort St. George arose on the site of the future great city of Madras. In 1654 this post became the seat of the first "Presidency," under a President and Council appointed by the Board of Directors in London. In 1668 the island of Bombay, part of the dowry of Catharine of Braganza, was granted by her husband, Charles II., to the Company, with new privileges, and the place soon became of importance as a centre of commerce. Under Louis XIV., the French appeared on the scene with an East India Company, having a "factory" at Chandernagore on the Hugli, a branch of the Ganges, and another at Pondicherri on the coast of the Carnatic. The English Company, in 1691, met this by erecting Fort St. David, south of Pondicherri. Seven years later the second English Presidency had its origin in Bengal, with the purchase of some land from the emperor Aurangzeb. Fort William, on the Hugli, gave strength and importance to Calcutta, which became, in 1707, the seat of government for the Presidency, and new "factories" or trade-depots arose at Dacca, Patna, and Cossimbazar in Bengal. In 1708 Bombay became the third Presidency.

>>> Next page >>>
Pages: <1> 2 3 4

Pictures for India.

The British Indian Empire, 1898.
The British Indian Empire, 1898. >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About