india under muslims -- 4/10/18

Today's selection -- from India: A History by John Keay. In the 1500s, Zahir-ud-din Muhammad began his successful conquest of the region that is now India, at a point at which the people in that region were largely Hindu. Zahir was a Mughal, one of the descendants of Tamerlane, who had conquered much of Persia and Central Asia and was known as the "Sword of Islam." With Zahir's subjugation of the region, the seeds were sown for the conflict between Hindus and Muslims that reverberates to this day:

"On 5 July in the year 1505 a violent earthquake hit the city of Agra. According to Ferishta, 'so severe an earthquake was never experienced in India either before or since . . . Lofty buildings were levelled with the ground [and] several thousand inhabitants were buried under the ruins.' To the survivors it seemed like an omen. Sikander, the second and greatest of the three Lodi sultans of Delhi, had in the preceding year celebrated his recovery of some of the sultanate's erstwhile territories by designating Agra as his alternative capital. A small town of no previous importance, its elevation also signified Lodi ambitions to subdue rivals to the south of Jamuna. The town had been replanned round a grand fort and 'the founda­tions of the modern Agra were laid. '

"Their almost immediate destruction by the earthquake made no impression on Sikander Lodi. Heedless, he resumed the creation of his new capital and continued to hammer away at his nearest rajput rival. This was Raja Man Singh of Gwalior whose subsidiary fortress of Narwar was indeed taken. But before the beetling cliffs of the superbly fortified palace-citadel at Gwalior itself, the Lodi forces, lacking artillery, proved powerless. At enormous cost the siege dragged on for several years. Worse still, word of the Lodi's discomfiture reached the ear of a young and ambitious new Mongol ruler in Kabul.

"Zahir-ud-din Muhammad, otherwise known as Babur or 'the Tiger', was already showing an unhealthy interest in the disturbed affairs of the Panjab, which province bordered his Afghan kingdom and was nominally under Lodi rule. In 1505, the year of the earthquake, he made his first foray across the north-west frontier. It was another omen which the Lodi sultan chose to ignore. Babur drew his own conclusion. As the Lodis' biographer puts it, 'Sikander Lodi, while fighting against the Tomars [i.e. the rajputs of Gwalior], was criminally neglecting the north-west frontier and the Panjab.'

"This state of affairs, if anything, worsened as the strife-torn Lodis squabbled amongst themselves. Twenty years and five exploratory incur­sions later, Babur would invade in earnest, topple Sikander's successor and, taking both Delhi and Agra, would inaugurate in India a Mongol, or Mughal, empire. Conventionally known in English as that of the Great Mughals, it would wax supreme for two centuries and engross most of the subcontinent. Through the agency of Babur, first of the Great Mughals, the multilateral history of the Indian subcontinent begins to jell into the monolithic history of India."



John Keay


India: A History. Revised and Updated


HarperCollins Publishers


Copyright 2000, 2010 by John Keay


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