the persians and the mughals -- 8/4/20

Today's encore selection -- from The Anarchy by William Dalrymple. In 1739, the Persian (Iranian) leader Nader Shah invaded India, ruled by the Mughals (Moguls) since the 16th century. The results were devastating and permanently impaired the power of the Mughals:

"On 29 March, a week after Nader Shah's forces had entered the Mughal capital, a newswriter for the Dutch VOC sent a report in which he described Nader Shah's bloody massacre of the people of Delhi: 'the Iranians have behaved like animals,' he wrote. 'At least 100,000 people were killed. Nader Shah gave orders to kill anyone who defended himself. As a result it seemed as if it were raining blood, for the drains were streaming with it.' Ghulam Hussain Khan recorded how, 'In an instant the soldiers getting on the tops of the houses commenced killing, slaughtering and plundering people's property, and carrying away their wives and daughters. Numbers of houses were set on fire and ruined.'

Equestrian portrait of Nader Shah Afshar

"In addition to those killed, many Delhi women were enslaved. The entire quarter around the Jama Masjid was gutted. There was little armed resistance: 'The Persians laid violent hands on everything and everybody; cloth, jewels, dishes of gold and silver were all acceptable spoil,' wrote Anand Ram Mukhlis, who watched the destruction from his rooftop, 'resolving to fight to the death if necessary ... For a long time after, the streets remained strewn with corpses, as the walks of a garden are with dead flowers and leaves. The town was reduced to ashes, and had the appearance of plain consumed with fire. The ruin of its beautiful streets and buildings was such that the labour of years could alone restore the city to its former state of grandeur.' The French Jesuits recorded that fires raged across the city for eight days and destroyed two of their churches.

"The massacre continued until the Nizam [ruler in Delhi] went bareheaded, his hands tied with his turban, and begged Nader on his knees to spare the inhabitants and instead to take revenge on him. Nader Shah ordered his troops to stop the killing; they obeyed immediately. He did so, however, on the condition that the Nizam would give him 100 crore (1 billion) rupees before he would agree to leave Delhi. 'The robbing, torture and plundering still continues,' noted a Dutch observer, 'but not, thankfully, the killing. '

"In the days that followed, the Nizam found himself in the unhappy position of having to loot his own city to pay the promised indemnity. The city was divided into five blocks and vast sums were demanded of each: 'Now commenced the work of spoliation,' remarked Anand Ram Mukhlis, 'watered by the tears of the people ... Not only was their money taken, but whole families were ruined. Many swallowed poison, and others ended their days with the stab of a knife ... In short the accumulated wealth of 348 years changed masters in a moment.'

"The Persians could not believe the riches that were offered to them over the next few days. They had simply never seen anything like it. Nader's court historian, Mirza Mahdi Astarabadi, was wide­eyed: 'Within a very few days, the officials entrusted with sequestration of the royal treasuries and workshops finished their appointed tasks,' he wrote. 'There appeared oceans of pearls & coral, and mines full of gems, gold and silver vessels, cups and other items encrusted with precious jewels and other luxurious objects in such vast quantities that accountants and scribes even in their wildest dreams would be unable to encompass them in their accounts and records.'

Among the sequestered objects was the Peacock Throne whose imperial jewels were unrivalled even by the treasures of ancient kings: in the time of earlier Emperors of India, two crores worth of jewels were used as encrustation to inlay this throne: the rarest spinels and rubies, the most brilliant diamonds, without parallel in any of the treasure of past or present kings, were transferred to Nader Shah's government treasury. During the period of our sojourn in Delhi, crores of rupees were extracted from the imperial treasuries. The military and landed nobility of the Mughal state, the grandees of the imperial capital, the independent rajas, the wealthy provincial governors -- all sent contributions of crores of coined bullion and gems and jewel-encrusted imperial regalia and the rarest vessels as tributary gifts to the royal court of Nader Shah, in such quantities that beggar all description.

"Nader never wished to rule India, just to plunder it for resources to fight his real enemies, the Russians and the Ottomans. Fifty-seven days later, he returned to Persia carrying the pick of the treasures the Mughal Empire had amassed over its 200 years of sovereignty and conquest: a caravan of riches that included Jahangir's magnificent Peacock Throne, embedded in which was both the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the great Timur ruby. Nader Shah also took with him the Great Mughal Diamond, reputedly the largest in the world, along with the Koh-i-Noor's slightly larger, pinker 'sister', the Daria-i-Noor, and '700 elephants, 4,000 camels and 12,000 horses carrying wagons all laden with gold, silver and precious stones', worth in total an estimated £87.5 million in the currency of the time.

"In a single swift blow, Nader Shah had broken the Mughal spell."



William Dalrymple


The Anarchy


Bloomsbury Publishing


Copyright William Dalrymple


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