The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India 9789814311687

This book provides valuable insight on the history of India from ancient times to 1600 CE for Indians and non-Indians, a

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Table of contents :
Chapter 1. The Dancing Girl
Chapter 2. The Vedic Age
Chapter 3. The Middle Path
Chapter 4. Greeks at the Door
Chapter 5. The Science of Government
Chapter 6. Remorse at Kalinga
Chapter 7. Martyrdom at Mylapore
Chapter 8. Valley of Blood
Chapter 9. The Nine Gems
Chapter 10. The Giver of Knowledge
Chapter 11. Arab Storm
Chapter 12. The Reformation
Chapter 13. The Gates of Somnath
Chapter 14. Beacon of Civilization
Chapter 15. Sovereign Lord
Chapter 16. A Slave’s Slave
Chapter 17. The Shadow of Allah
Chapter 18. Thousand Dinar Kafur
Chapter 19. Delhi Woes
Chapter 20. The Bulwark
Chapter 21. For Christians and Spices
Chapter 22. Matchlocks and Cannons
Chapter 23. The Afghan
Chapter 24. The Last Maharajah of Delhi
Chapter 25. The Death of a City
Chapter 26. The Divine Religion
Chapter 27. The Book
Chapter 28. The Light of the World
Chapter 29. Splendour Amidst Misery
Chapter 30. The Seizer of the Universe
Select Bibliography
Further Reading
Photo Credits
About the Author
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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >


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7/5/11 7:51:47 PM

Many knew Dr Balaji Sadasivan either as a doctor or as a politician, but few would have known that he had a keen sense of history. He was drawn to the study of history as a way of knowing the past that moulds people’s present and charts their sense of the future. Politics and history are intertwined. In this book, we have evidence of an historical mind that surveyed India’s place in time both broadly and deeply. Dr Sadasivan’s historical insights were not restricted to India but he was particularly keen in that area. This book makes good reading.

S Jayakumar

Former Deputy Prime Minister, Republic of Singapore

I t gives me great pleasure to write a few words for Balaji’s book dedicated to narrating some aspects of the history of India to appeal to the new generation.  alaji has been a close friend and I cherish the days we were together as medical students in the B University of Singapore. I remember vividly his interest and inclination towards the arts. He and Swan Hoo both had the same appeal and it was also the chemistry which drew them together and strengthened their relationship as husband and wife later. As a student he researched and was passionately writing about the Malacca Sultanate apart from being involved in the drama productions of King Edward VII Hall. It is very sad that Balaji was not able to complete this remarkable work on the history of India, but I am sure those portions that have been completed stand testimony to the passion he had for this subject. His aim was to reach out to the younger facebook and twitter generation who have somewhat relegated history to a distant position in their list of priorities. I hope the book will kindle sparks of interest among the younger generation and stimulate them to relook history as they chart the course for the future. I would like to thank Swan Hoo for remembering me and allowing me to share my thoughts in this book. Although Balaji has left us, his mission will continue and his spirit prevail through this book.

S Subramaniam

Minister, Ministry of Human Resources, Malaysia

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 istory is inevitably written from the perspective of the writer. By viewing the same history from H different perspectives, one achieves greater depth of understanding and derives new insights. Balaji set out to write the history of India from the perspective of ‘a child of the diaspora, setting foot on Indian soil for the first time at the age of 35’. It was to be from the viewpoint of ‘a detached outsider’. Perhaps that was too modest a claim. True to Balaji’s character, The Dancing Girl an account of India’s early history, was written with affection, honesty and optimism.

George Yeo

Former Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

Even by the exacting standards of Singapore, Dr Balaji was an extraordinary Minister. If he sometimes embarrassed me by knowing more about the country I represented, I forgave him for the insights that he had just provided. His ability to integrate diverse strands of information was a great quality. Conversations with him on modern Indian history, particularly on choices not made, remain a vivid memory. His political background enhanced an ability to communicate easily across cultures. A regular presence at India’s diaspora gatherings, one sorely missed, his book should be as great a read as talking to him was a pleasure.

S Jaishankar

Ambassador of India to China Former High Commissioner of India to Singapore

I had the privilege of knowing Dr Balaji Sadasivan when I was Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Singapore during my term from 2004 to 2008. Dr Balaji was a man of tremendous humility, decency and honesty. He demonstrated exceptional commitment and candour. This book shows his deep interest and knowledge of one of the greatest civilizations that developed around the mighty Indus and Ganges rivers and their tributaries. The ruins of cities like Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Taxila are testimony to the thriving centres of learning in ancient times. Dr Balaji has looked into hitherto unexplored areas of history and culture that continue to enrich the lives of billions of people. I am honoured to be associated with this book that will forever remain part of the legacy left behind by Dr Balaji Sadasivan. ISEAS, true to its character, is doing a great service in publishing the works of a distinguished Singaporean.

Sajjad Ashraf

Former High Commissioner of Pakistan to Singapore Visiting Senior Research Fellow, ISEAS Adjunct Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS

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Dr Balaji Sadasivan was a dear friend, colleague and teacher. He was not only a world-class neurosurgeon, but also a polymath. His knowledge of history, in general, and the history of India, was astonishing. This valuable book brings back many happy memories of the ‘tutorials’ he gave me on the history of India.

Tommy Koh

Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

I came to know Dr Balaji Sadasivan in 2007, when he was appointed Chairman of the World Health Organization’s Executive Board. He presided over an especially challenging agenda with some potentially explosive items at the political as well as the technical level, including a strategy for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases that crossed paths with some powerful corporate interests. The notorious H5N1 avian influence virus was likewise on the agenda, fuelling fears of an imminent influenza pandemic and much debate about fairness in the sharing of vaccines and medicines with the developing world should a severe event occur. The Executive Board chaired by Dr Balaji occurred on my 19th day in office as the newly elected Director-General of WHO. I could not have been blessed with a better Chair for my own personal inauguration into the fast-paced debates that typify these meetings. I was deeply impressed by the way Dr Balaji skillfully and diplomatically steered the deliberations and negotiations. In the end, the Executive Board adopted 21 resolutions, all by consensus.  part from his vast knowledge of public health, its political dimensions, and its significance for A foreign affairs, he displayed what I can describe, most simply and directly, as the spirit of a great and compassionate man. As a distinguished neurosurgeon, he was equally at home speaking about the power of medical technologies and the unmet needs of poor, often homeless people suffering from tuberculosis, items that were also on the agenda. I knew him as a courageous leader in public health, and like many others, deeply regret his untimely passing. I am certain that the traits that so impressed me live on in The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India.

Margaret Chan

Director-General, World Health Organization

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Whatever Balaji Sadasivan did, he did with excellence and enthusiasm. He was a first class neurosurgeon who helped to create the National Neuroscience Institute in Singapore, then turned to political life and was in turn Minister of State for Health, the Environment and Transport, and later Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts, Health, and Foreign Affairs. For many years he worked on this book, The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India. Like Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples it is a work of love carried out over a protracted time but in the end an immensely readable and scholarly volume. I had the honour of being part of Balaji’s training during his time overseas in 1989 and followed his career of service with immense respect. He was thoughtful, affable, and very bright. His interests even then went far beyond the bounds of neurosurgery. Balaji died too young, of an aggressive cancer. He lives on in several ways, however-through his wonderful wife Swan Hoo Ma, who saw this work to completion as a way of honouring her husband and their mutual love of history; through his children Anita and Dharma; through his contributions to Singapore life including the art gallery in the Supreme Court and City Hall; and now through this book. This volume reflects his humour, his breadth of intelligence, and his commitment to history and our understanding of the modern world. Like Balaji, it is energetic, funny, and thoughtful. It is a wonderful contribution to our understanding of the great Indian subcontinent.

Peter Black

Franc D. Ingraham Professor of Neurosurgery, Harvard Medical School President of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies

Rarely does one come across a man with so much talent, so much enthusiasm and still with so much humility. He was clearly talented in every field that he touched; as a student before he studied medicine; as a medical student, as a specialist in neurosurgery in many prestigious medical institutions in the UK and US; as a neurosurgeon in the Government in Singapore and later as a leading neurosurgeon in private practice; and always as a friend to so many. Few however knew that he was a voracious reader and a passionate historian! It is such a great loss that he was taken away long before he finished some of his pet projects like the five-volume history of India which he had started in earnest whilst a Minister! His memory will serve as a beacon and an inspiration to everyone he touched. Most of us can only aspire to do in one lifetime a fraction of what Dr Balaji achieved in so short a time. His book aptly titled by him as The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India will always remind us of Dr Balaji’s contribution to history and more importantly his stupendous character.

Sat Pal Khattar

Life Trustee, SINDA Vice-President, Singapore Indian Education Trust (SIET) Member, Indian Heritage Centre Steering Committee

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To write a book on India’s long and complex history is no mean task, and only the most committed and competent historian will dare undertake such a formidable challenge. Dr Balaji has bravely gone where few historians have dared to venture. Driven by his profound fascination with and deep passion for the history of India, Dr Balaji has succeeded in producing an engaging and insightful story that will appeal to a broad range of readers. This is truly a labour of love, a fitting contribution by an outstanding individual who wanted the children of the Indian Diaspora, of which he was one, to appreciate the civilizational richness of India.

Tan Tai Yong

Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore (NUS)

This is an excellent introduction to Indian history. It is well illustrated and clearly written. There are very few general surveys on pre-modern Indian history, this book fills that lacuna. It will surely draw a wide readership.

Tansen Sen

Associate Professor, Asian History, City University of New York Head, Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, ISEAS

Dr Balaji was a remarkable person. His wit and humour put all at ease. I remember fondly the many great moments when he spoke to children as young as Primary 3 to students from tertiary institutions offering advice and directions about their future. His knowledge of matters pertaining to the Indian community was incredible. He was able to offer examples from varied sources to support his points. As President of SINDA, during meetings, he listened to the points made by all and gave his well-thought out solution that was well received. This is a unique ability and made Dr Balaji well-loved by all at SINDA. I am happy that his transcript on the history of India is being published as a book by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS). I am very sure that this book will be of immense interest to all those interested in what is a unique interpretation of Indian history.

Raja Segar

Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA)

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I encountered Dr Balaji’s passion for Indian history when he articulated the vision for the Indian Heritage Centre project. In this book, his breadth of knowledge, attention to historic details and concern for rootedness will serve as a beacon to the young Indian Diaspora anywhere in the world. Here is a book on Indian history, for the children of the Diaspora written by a product of the Indian Diaspora.

Gauri Krishnan

Deputy Director (Research Unit) & Senior Curator (South Asia), Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore

Dr Balaji wanted to tell the history of India in a simple yet interesting style that would appeal to non-academics, non-Indians and especially the children of the vast Indian Diaspora who may have never set foot in India. My sense is that the multi-talented doctor has succeeded in his endeavour.

P Thirunal Karasu

Chairman, PA Narpani Pearavai

In the short span of time I worked with the late Dr Balaji Sadasivan, I have found him to be an admirable and wonderful person. Despite his illness, he never failed to discharge his duties as Senior Minister of State in the Foreign Affairs Ministry and as MP to his constituents. He also worked tirelessly to fulfill his dream of writing this book. I t is most gratifying to know that his book has been completed and that many readers will benefit from his vast knowledge of Indian history.

Lilian Low

PA to 2nd Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (former PA to the late Dr Balaji Sadasivan)

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The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) was established as an autonomous

organization in 1968. It is a regional centre dedicated to the study of socio-political, security and economic trends and developments in Southeast Asia and its wider geostrategic and economic environment. The Institute’s research programmes are the

Regional Economic Studies (RES, including ASEAN and APEC), Regional Strategic and Political Studies (RSPS), and Regional Social and Cultural Studies (RSCS).

ISEAS Publishing, an established academic press, has issued almost 2,000 books and journals. It is the largest scholarly publisher of research about Southeast Asia

from within the region. ISEAS Publishing works with many other academic and

trade publishers and distributors to disseminate important research and analyses from and about Southeast Asia to the rest of the world.

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Balaji Sadasivan

Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Singapore

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First published in Singapore in 2011 by ISEAS Publishing Institute of Southeast Asian Studies 30 Heng Mui Keng Terrace Pasir Panjang Singapore 119614 E-mail

: [email protected]

Website : All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. © 2011 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore The responsibility for facts and opinions in this publication rests exclusively with the author and his interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views or the policy of ISEAS or its supporters. Maps are graphic depictions, not drawn to scale. They are an artist’s impression. All net proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF) of Singapore.

ISEAS Library Cataloguing-in-P ublication Data Sadasivan, Balaji.

The dancing girl : a history of early India.

1. India—History.

2. India—Civilization.

3. India—Civilization—Islamic influences.

I Title.

DS451 S12


ISBN 978-981-4311-67-0 (hard cover) ISBN 978-981-4311-68-7 (e-book, PDF) Designed by Redbean De Pte Ltd Printed in Singapore by

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Contents Foreword by President S R Nathan



16  A Slave’s Slave


Message by Sugata Bose



17  The Shadow of Allah




18  Thousand Dinar Kafur




19  Delhi Woes




20  The Bulwark


Message by Ma Swan Hoo Preface Chapter

1  The Dancing Girl


2  The Vedic Age



21  For Christians and Spices



3  The Middle Path



22  Matchlocks and Cannons



4  Greeks at the Door



23  The Afghan



5  The Science of Government



24  The Last Maharajah of Delhi



6  Remorse at Kalinga



25  The Death of a City



7  Martyrdom at Mylapore



26  The Divine Religion



8  Valley of Blood



27  The Book



9  The Nine Gems



28  The Light of the World



10  The Giver of Knowledge



29  Splendour Amidst Misery



11  Arab Storm



30  The Seizer of the Universe



12  The Reformation


Select Bibliography



13  The Gates of Somnath


Photo Credits



14  Beacon of Civilization





15  Sovereign Lord


About the Author


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Foreword India is a diverse country with a long history of cross-cultural interactions, complex philosophical ideas, and multifaceted literary traditions. To capture the intricacies of Indian history is no easy feat. For people of Indian origin who visit the country sporadically, their ancestral homeland can be mysterious, exotic, and incomprehensible. In his lifetime, despite ailing health, the late Dr Balaji Sadasivan spent long hours digging into India’s ancient history to present his findings to the Diaspora Indians. Admirably, with great insights into important events, he has expressed his findings in a way that is exciting to read and easy to follow. His achievement is even more commendable considering that Dr Balaji Sadasivan was not a historian but a neurosurgeon and a full-time politician. Divided into several chapters, The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India, covers over four thousand years of Indian history. From the Indus Valley Civilization, which produced the beautiful figurine of the dancing girl on the cover of this book, to the splendours of Islamic traditions under the Mughal empire, Dr Balaji has outlined the evolution of Indian religions and philosophical traditions, analysed the Buddhist interactions between India and China and the trading relations between South Asia and Southeast Asia, and given a fascinating account of the spread of Islamic ideas into India. Every chapter of this book is carefully researched and organized. In the chapter titled “The Reformation”, for example, Dr Balaji points out the complexities of Hinduism, its Vedic origins and its “reformation” during the Gupta and post-Gupta periods. At the same time, however, he is meticulous about the developments taking place within Buddhism and the support it receives from the Pala rulers of Bengal. He is also thorough in his discussions about the increasing importance of Buddhist monastic institutions and Hindu temples in the tenth and eleventh centuries.

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Although Dr Balaji notes that the book is intended for the Diaspora Indians, I am hopeful it will attract a much wider audience. Students of non-Indian heritage will find the discussion of India’s contact with the wider world particularly useful. Dr Balaji’s discussion of this topic comes from his personal involvement in the Nalanda initiative that sought to revive the Nalanda University in India. One of the world’s earliest institutions of higher learning, as outlined in the chapter “The Giver of Knowledge”, Nalanda attracted scholars and Buddhist monks from different parts of Asia. It imparted knowledge not only about Buddhism, but also about non-Buddhist philosophy, medicine, astronomy, and other subjects. Dr Balaji was intimately involved in this project and was often praised for his contributions by Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen, Head of the Nalanda Mentor Group. A debt of gratitude is owed to Mrs Balaji Sadasivan for bringing to fruition Dr Balaji’s aspiration to complete this manuscript. I must also thank the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies for publishing Dr Balaji’s book. Works such as these are keys to comprehending the history of Asia and the connectivities among Asian societies and cultures. The publication of this book is recognition of Dr Balaji’s intellect and his dedication to understanding Indian and Asian history. S R Nathan

President Republic of Singapore

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Message I met Dr Balaji Sadasivan in connection with our collective effort to reestablish an Asian international university at Nalanda, the site of perhaps the oldest university in the world. I could see that the erudite, soft-spoken doctor and foreign affairs expert harboured a fascination for history, especially the elements of South Asian culture that flowed to Southeast Asia to be creatively adapted in new ways. I did not know then that he was writing his own account of that history for the children of the vast Indian Diaspora. When Ambassador Kesavapany, Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), brought to my attention the existence of his manuscript, we could only be grateful that he had more or less completed it before his sad, untimely death. The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, must be congratulated for providing the finishing touches and further embellishing the work with pictures and maps. Dr Balaji Sadasivan’s book displays his eye for vivid detail and his ability to choose the most compelling anecdotes to illuminate larger historical themes. His skills as a story-teller will enable him to reach the younger generation of readers. This book is not boring! The stunning urban culture of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the enlightenment of Gautama Buddha, the dhamma of Asoka, the light of knowledge dispersed from Nalanda, the naval expeditions of the Cholas, are all depicted with great insight in the form of a stylish and eloquent narrative. Had he been with us for a bit longer, I would have tried to persuade Dr Balaji Sadasivan of the grandeur of the Indo-Islamic cultural ecumene that was forged in the subcontinent during the last millennium under the patronage of regional Muslim Sultans and the great Mughal emperors who invited non-Muslims to be partners in building that magnificent edifice.

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Nineteenth-century colonial accounts of the role of Islam in India had often privileged myth over history and emphasized the destructive rather than constructive dimensions of the rule by Muslim sovereigns. One example will suffice to illustrate this point. Dr Balaji Sadasivan tells us that Lord Ellenborough, the Governor-General of India, at the time of the First Anglo-Afghan War “accepted the legend” that the gates of Mahmud of Ghazni’s tomb had been looted from the temple in Somnath. Needing something to claim victory in the aftermath of a catastrophic military debacle in the early 1840s, Ellenborough issued a proclamation on the gates and ordered his soldiers to bring them to India. But did the legend have any historical basis? It was clear from the type of timber and the style of the inscriptions that the doors were the work of north African craftsmen travelling east rather than the gates of Somnath being taken north by an invader. The doors were brought to India with great fanfare, but languished in a corner of the Agra Fort as an example of “Ellenborough’s folly”. Dr Balaji Sadasivan’s book will entertain and instruct, while engendering, I hope, a healthy and civil debate. It will serve as a useful introduction for the new generation in Southeast Asia interested in tracing the history of what Rabindranath Tagore described as “India’s entry into the universal”. Sugata Bose

Gardiner Professor of History Harvard University

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Message Balaji was my best teacher. He taught me how to ride a bike, play bridge and how to write sonnets. He taught me many aspects of science, mathematics, economics, politics, law, and history. He taught me compassion, kindness and generosity through his fine example. He had told me that had he not been a neurosurgeon, he would have liked to be a history professor. Before Wikipedia, he was my Balaji-pedia – my instant source of reference and information on anything and everything. Our courtship days were full of delightful engaging discourses on diverse subjects late into the nights. Our 34 years together were filled with never-ending absorbing discussions and dinner conversations during which he happily shared and imparted his wealth of knowledge. He was a great source of enlightenment. When the National Museum of Singapore was reopening in 2006 with a gallery on the History of Singapore, we spent many nights discussing Singapore’s history. I had endless questions for him as I was a volunteer guide with the museums and was preparing to guide at this new gallery. He had, as was often, such an extensive knowledge on the subject that I suggested he write a book on the history of Singapore. Some months later, he informed me that he was thinking of writing on the history of India. What a gargantuan task this would be, I thought out loud. But he had it all figured out. There would be five volumes, each with fifteen chapters. The first volume would start with ancient India till 1200 CE; Volume Two would cover the period when India was under the Muslim rulers; Volume Three when India was under the British; Volume Four on India’s road to independence and Volume Five on post-independence India. When he retired, he would take a couple of years off to visit and take photographs of all the sites that he would describe in his book. He also dreamed of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) making it into a documentary and showing it as a daily or weekly series on the HISTORY channel, one of his favourite television programmes.

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Balaji loved to read. He read children’s books, comics, poetry, plays, scientific periodicals, economic and financial magazines, newspapers, fiction and non-fiction. He had his reading material within easy reach throughout the house: on the floor and table by the bed, on the dining table, coffee table, his study, family room, our bathroom, in his car, in his suitcase. He had a remarkable memory and could provide great details, even years later, of all that he had read. Amongst his favourite bedtime books was Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which he had read several times. His reading style was rather unique. He “slept” as he read. During our days as medical students studying together in the medical library, as I underlined or highlighted the important points in my texts, he would read and nod off to sleep. When he awoke, he would read the next chapter and doze off again. After doing this for several chapters, he would get me to test him. I was always amazed at how he could remember every minute detail in our thick medical texts, down to the exact page and paragraph even though he appeared to have been sleeping during much of the entire period. His brain was processing all the information during his “sleep”. Balaji would scribble some brief notes in his characteristic physician’s illegible handwriting before he started to write a chapter. Each chapter would focus on what he considered as an important item, person or event that shaped the course of India’s history. Each chapter could be read independently and not necessarily sequentially. Each chapter should be no more than five or six pages long. He wanted to tell the history of India in a simple, clear and uncomplicated manner so that it would also appeal to non-academics and to non-Indians. More importantly, he wanted to write it for the children of the vast Indian diaspora, scattered in many parts of the world, many of whom may be unfamiliar with India’s history and many of whom may have never set foot in India.

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He He the the

tried not to have too many characters in each chapter so as not to confuse the reader. chose to be concise. He wanted his book to have many images and maps to accompany text, to make it interesting and easy for the reader. He personally selected the images for chapters. He also wanted maps for every chapter.

He bought a stack of tracing paper, a set of coloured pens, some pencils and an eraser. He managed to do maps for several chapters before he felt the ill effects of his treatment for colon cancer. Thereafter, despite his talent for being able to read and write fast, he had only time and energy for his projects and duties at his ministry, his constituency and the community. It is therefore with great appreciation and gratitude that this book has materialized, much to the efforts of Ambassador Kesavapany, Director of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, who offered to have ISEAS publish the book, Mrs Triena Ong and Mark Tallara of ISEAS Publishing, who have painstakingly gone through every word in every chapter, sourced for the references for the images, prepared the maps, and collaborated with the designer on the layout and design of the book. We are greatly indebted, too, to President S R Nathan for writing the Foreword as well as to Professor Sugata Bose for his message. We would also like to thank all of Balaji’s friends and colleagues who have contributed their endorsements for the book. Finally I would like to thank our children, Dharma and Anita, who are now old enough to provide me with guidance and advice, for their love and support, as well as all family members, friends, colleagues, grassroots and community leaders and well-wishers who have helped and supported us in one way or another. Ma Swan Hoo (Mrs Balaji Sadasivan)

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Preface I am a child of the diaspora, stepping foot on Indian soil for the first time at the age of 35. In some

ways I see India like a detached outsider. I had intended to write a history of India for Diaspora Indians so that we could understand the origins of our Indian Heritage even if we did not live in India. This was meant to be a retirement project for which I collected notes. I divided the history of India into five periods: One : The ancient period up to 1200; Two : 1200-1660, when foreign Muslims ruled much of India; Three : 1660-1860, when Muslim power declined and the British gained power. This period ends with the first signs of Indian Nationalism emerging during the Indian Mutiny;

Four : 1860-1947, when India took the road to independence; Five : 1947- present, which covers the post independence period. Unexpected circumstances led me to publish the first two volumes based on my notes much earlier than I had intended to.

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

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Chapter 1

The Dancing Girl

The bronze statuette of the dancing girl

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Harappa Mohenjo-Daro


Dnol~vlr~ .$ ~



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2500 BCE Mohenjo-Daro

The people of the Indus Valley Civilization enter the Bronze Age

The ruins of Mohenjo-Daro

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In the very first gallery on the ground floor of the National Museum in New Delhi, a small bronze statuette of a naked girl in what appears to be a dancing pose is displayed in a glass showcase. It was cast around 2500 BCE. Over thousands of years, humans living in the Stone Age made improvements to their stone implements and weapons. They may have discovered copper, silver, tin or gold but these metals in their pure state are soft and could not replace stone tools. The mixing of tin and copper to create the alloy, bronze, which is stronger than its individual components and stronger than stone, was the technological breakthrough that distinguished the Bronze Age. Bronze created new possibilities for human society and lifted civilization a notch upwards. The statuette indicates that a Bronze Age Civilization existed in India 4,500 years ago, possibly the most advanced human civilization in the world of that ancient time. This is a forgotten period of Indian history which was only recently discovered. India in its subsequent history would have periods of achievement but it would not have the distinction of being the most advanced society in the world again. The remains of the earliest Homo sapiens in South Asia were found in Sri Lanka and they date back to 34,000 years ago. While peninsular India has yielded numerous stone artefacts from the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic Period), no such artefacts have been found in the Indo-Gangetic Valley possibly because this area was an uninhabitable marshland in those early days. As marshland became fertile riverine valleys, Homo sapiens descended from the Deccan to the Indo-Gangetic Valley. The life of the Palaeolithic Man was barely distinguishable from that of other animals. They lived as packs of hunter food-gatherers. With improvement in their ability to fashion stone, new tools like sharp stone arrowheads and knives were created, heralding the Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic Period). Around 8000 BCE, in several regions around the world, as the Ice Age receded, human society entered the New Stone

Age (Neolithic Period). The hallmark of the Neolithic Man was the domestication of plants. The advent of agriculture marks the origin of civilization. A stable food supply allowed an expansion of human population, a division of labour and a surplus of human energy that could be diverted from the primeval struggle to survive, to the cultural and social activities that we associate with civilization. Five thousand years ago, Neolithic Man inhabited the six continents, but only in three regions is there clear evidence of settled societies with rudimentary towns that could be categorized as civilization – Sumer (Iraq), Egypt, and the Indus Valley. Until recently Chinese civilization was thought to have started a thousand years later with the Shang dynasty. Now there is some evidence of earlier Chinese settled societies during the Xia dynasty which pre-dates the Shang. Neolithic man must have discovered that in certain locations, to form settled societies, it was possible to repeatedly cultivate crops that could serve as a storable source of food. There are two pre-requisites for the repeated cultivation of land, year after year—a reliable source of water and fertile soil. This was found along the valleys of large rivers where the river periodically flooded the land. The river provided water and the periodic flooding of the land with deposition of new silt ensured the continued fertility of the land. The land along the Nile, the Euphrates, and the Indus met these requirements and hence the earliest civilizations had their origins along the banks of these rivers. Progress of the early civilizations was accelerated by the development of writing – hieroglyphics in Egypt, cuneiform in Sumer, and the Indus Valley script in India. With writing, human society had the means to accumulate knowledge and information beyond what could be committed to human memory. Egypt and Sumer built their cities with mud and these have long been washed away leaving behind gold artefacts and stone edifices as reminders of their civilization. The Indus Valley cities are bereft of monumental edifices but the

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remains of their well planned cities built with baked brick are themselves a monument to the advanced urbanization of their civilization. The earliest reference to the lost Indus Valley Civilization comes from Greece. Strabo, a Greek historian stated that one of Alexander’s generals described crossing a land with a thousand deserted cities during their journey down the Indus Valley. Two thousand years after Alexander, in 1826, a British Army deserter who went under the name of Charles Masson came across Harappa while travelling through the Punjab region. He described a “ruinous brick castle” and remnants of ancient buildings. However, British engineers pillaged much of the brick for the construction of the Lahore-Multan railway and so when excavations of the vandalized ruins of Harrapa were carried out in the 1870s, there were no significant finds at the site, except for a soapstone seal engraved with the image of a bull and six characters of an unknown script. The seal at the time of its discovery was considered to be of no great significance. It was the fortuitous discovery of Mohenjo-Daro by R. D. Banerjee in 1919 that led to our current day knowledge of this civilization. While scouting the arid lands 350 miles

south of Harappa, Banerjee discovered a Buddhist stupa at a place that was called Mohenjo-Daro, which means “mould of the dead” in the local dialect. Around the stupa were the remains of an ancient city. A preliminary dig uncovered bits of engraved copper and three more soapstone seals. This sparked the great excitement that led to massive excavation works in 1926. The dancing girl was found at Mohenjo-Daro. The dancing girl was cast using the lost wax process. The creator of the statuette was a skilled metallurgist who first carved a model in wax. The model was then covered with wet clay which hardened as it dried. Holes were bored into the clay mould. When the mould was heated, the wax flowed out creating a hollow space into which was poured a mixture of molten copper and tin. The blacksmiths of the Indus Valley were the first to discover the secret of casting bronze. Copper smelting may have been accidentally discovered during the production of bricks in the kilns when copper containing ores like malachite were heated. While copper ore was readily available in the Indus Valley region, the source of the tin ore is a mystery and it had to be imported, which means that trade and contact with other lands existed even in those ancient days. Since Indus Valley seals have been found in Mesopotamia, a region where tin ore is found, there is speculation that trade between the two civilizations flourished. Who is the person represented by the dancing girl – was she a priestess or a courtesan? Some archaeologists have tried to divine her racial type by her face. Besides the dancing girl, a soapstone bust of a bearded man with a headband and an armlet was also recovered at Mohenjo-Daro. Historians speculate that the figure represents a chief priest.

Soapstone seal from Harappa

While the culture and the people of the Indus Valley are subject to speculation that more often than not, reflect the prejudices and biases of the speculating historian or archaeologist, the vast extant of the Indus Valley Civilization is beyond speculation. It was spread over a thousand miles, from the foothills of the Himalayas in the North to the

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Arabian Sea in the South. The area exceeded a million square kilometres. Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa are best known because they were the earliest to be discovered. The excavation of more recently discovered sites like Dholavira and Lothal are adding to our knowledge of this civilization. There is no doubt that more sites will be discovered and that the ongoing work of archaeologists has only just scratched the surface. The common features found in the cities that have been excavated indicate a unified culture with interaction among the populace between cities. The cities were planned on a grid pattern with broad streets, a clean water supply, and a planned sanitation and drainage system. Among the ancient civilizations, the Indus Valley cities are unique in their advanced state of town planning. Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Dholavira and Lothal each had between 20,000 to 50,000 inhabitants. Some cities, like Mohenjo-Daro, were successively destroyed and rebuilt several times. Flooding is thought to have periodically caused the destruction of this city. The Indus Valley cities were built using standardized baked bricks with the ratio of their dimensions set at 1:2:4. Individual house drains were linked to the sewer system along the streets. The sanitary drainage was superior to that found in sixteenth century London. Houses generally had a courtyard with rooms opening into it. Most houses had individual wells and bathrooms with drainage. Organized urban living of this nature would have required a high degree of control but we have no knowledge of the politicosocial organization of this society. Perhaps when the Indus Valley script is deciphered and we are able to read the more than 4,000 inscriptions unearthed, we may glean an understanding of their society. Both Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, which are located in present-day Pakistan, had citadels in the western part of the city with defensive walls and bastions. The function of the large public areas and halls within the citadel is not known. There are bitumen-lined brick reservoirs which could have served as baths or as water storage tanks. Historians have

Soapstone bust of High Priest

commented that unlike other ancient civilizations, there are no large spectacular temple structures or monumental tombs in the Indus Valley cities. Perhaps this is the best monument that the Indus Valley Civilization leaves posterity with its planned cities which indicate a culture where the energy of the inhabitants was channelled towards the betterment of life for the multitude and where massive temples to appease the gods or cavernous tombs to memorialize a few do not appear to have been priorities. Dholavira is located on an island in the Kutch region of Gujarat which is surrounded by water only during the monsoon period. Although its city planning with a citadel and residential area is reminiscent of Harappa and MohenjoDaro, the buildings were built with stone and not bricks.

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Lothal, also in Gujarat, was a trading port with a dockyard and a wharf. Boats from Lothal would have been able to travel to Oman and Mesopotamia. Sumerian texts of the second millennium BCE refer to trade with a region in the East, Meluhha, which some historians now identify as the Indus Valley Civilization. The Indus Valley cities were built around 2600 BCE and were abandoned around 1700 BCE. The Vedic civilization of the Gangetic Valley emerged several hundred years later. Why and how did the Indus Valley Civilization disappear? We can look to nature for an explanation. A stable food supply is a prerequisite for urban civilized life. Any natural event that caused severe famine over the entire Indus Valley region for a significant period of time would have depopulated the cities. The survivors would leave the region to areas far enough to be unaffected by the famine. The disintegration of their society and the painful memories of the suffering that led to their departure would have been strong reasons for the survivors not to return. The cause for the prolonged famine could have been extensive flooding, drought, climatic change, earthquakes or a combination of these changes.

The ruins of Dholavira

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There is evidence of a major geological change in the Indus Valley region between 1800 BCE and 1500 BCE. While there are fewer than a hundred Indus Valley sites along the Indus and its tributaries, there are more than six times this number along the Hakra River and its tributaries which suggests that the focal centre of the Indus Valley Civilization was not the Indus River but the dried out river bed of the Hakra. Satellite photography suggests that at least until 2000 BCE, the upper Sutlej River and the Yamuna flowed into the Hakra and ended in the Arabian Sea at the Kutch. A major catastrophic tectonic shift must have occurred to divert the Sutlej to the Indus and the Yamuna to the Ganges, drying up the Hakra River. The earthquakes that led to the diversion of the two rivers would have been of a massive magnitude causing extensive destruction to all the cities. The drying up of the Hakra River would have disrupted food production. The flooding of the Indus Valley due to the added waters of Sutlej to the Indus would have caused further destruction to cities and more disruption of food production. The survivors of this catastrophe that destroyed the Indus Valley Civilization would have moved to adjacent areas, to Persia and Afghanistan in the West and to the Gangetic Plain and the Deccan in the East. They would have influenced the language and culture of the people in both these regions. Between 1700 BCE and 1400 BCE, a people called the Avestan lived in Eastern Persia and a people called the Rig Vedic lived in the western Gangetic plain. Their language, culture, mythology, and rituals show similarities. The Sanskrit in the oldest parts of the Vedas used by

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the Rig Vedics and the earliest hymns of the Avesta, which are part of the sacred text of the Zoroastrians (Parsees) resemble each other in both language and content. They were both composed between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE, a time frame that overlaps with that of the Indus Valley Civilization. Both Avestans and the Rig Vedics used fire in their rituals and drank a juice called the soma in the Rig Veda and hoama in the Avesta. Both groups referred to themselves as Arya. The Indus Valley Civilization could be the origin of the similarities of the two people. The linguistic links between the languages of Europe and India were studied by European scholars in the nineteenth century. They discovered that the Rig Veda was very ancient and that the language it was written in, Sanskrit, was sophisticated with a highly developed grammar. They also noticed some similarities between Sanskrit and the European languages. As Christians, they subscribed to the nineteenth century Christian belief that God created the world around 4000 BCE and that Noah’s flood occurred around 2500 BCE. As colonialists, they had contempt for Indians and their culture and could not believe that Indians could be responsible for the composition of the Vedas. These scholars developed the theory that Aryans, a European race, were responsible for the philosophy of the Vedas. They claimed that the Aryans entered India around 2000 BCE and introduced agriculture and civilization to India. The European Aryan culture was supposed to have originated from the Steppes although there was no archaeological evidence for any such sophisticated civilization in that region. The British Raj in India readily promoted the idea of a racially superior white skinned Aryan invasion and a caste system based on the whiteness of one’s skin colour as this aligned their Imperial power to the existing caste hierarchy with the Englishman at the top of the pyramid. When the Indus Valley Civilization was discovered and its existence corresponded to the time when the Rig Veda was composed, European scholars explained away its importance by proposing that the superior Aryan race destroyed the Indus Valley Civilization.

Sanitary drains in Mohenjo-Daro

The European incarnate of nineteenth century Aryan pseudo-science with its idealized blue-eyed, blond-haired German received ideological acclamation in Nazi Germany. The catastrophic destruction of Europe in World War II exposed the racism behind European Aryanism, but the Indian version of this ideology continued to thrive in India even after Independence. Under British rule, high caste Hindus supported the Aryan theory as it appeared to justify the caste system and their position within the system. While Europe gave up the Aryan theory after World War II, the cohort of British trained historians continued to perpetuate the Aryan theory in post Independence India. Today, genomics has been used to track the migration of the human race. Studies of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) show that humans originated from Africa and reached Southwest Asia around 50,000 years ago. There was then a divergence, with some humans moving on to India and others to Europe. There is no mtDNA evidence of migration of Europeans to India around 2000 BCE as asserted by the Aryan theory. Studies of the mtDNA of Indians show a fundamental unity of their mtDNA lineages despite the cultural and linguistic diversity within the Indian subcontinent. The mtDNA studies show that there is no

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such thing as a Hindu or Muslim, high caste or low caste, North Indian or South Indian genetic identity. All ethnic Indians share a common genomic unity that separates them from Europeans. Invading armies leave a genetic record of their semen as they travel across the land. Armies consisting of Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Kushans, Huns, Tibetans, Arabs, Afghans, Central Asians and Turks have invaded India. Their Y chromosome can be found among all Indian ethnic groups, with a greater frequency in the North and among higher castes. So while all ethnic Indians share a common genomic unity, there is no such thing as a racially pure Indian. If the Aryan mentioned in the Rig Veda are not Europeans, where do they come from? The Rig Veda mentions the Saraswati River 72 times. In the Vedas, it is the chief river in a land with seven major rivers. Its description corresponds to the now dried up Hakra River, the centre of the Indus Valley Civilization. If this is indeed true, then the origins of Indian philosophy as expounded in the Vedas are indigenous and there is a cultural continuity between the Indus Valley Civilization and the subsequent Vedic culture of the Gangetic plain. Early urban civilizations were fragile ecosystems and nature in its whimsical way must have snuffed out several. Looking back five thousand years, we trace our history to known civilizations. These are the survivors of the Darwinian world we live in. Those that did not survive became ancient “lost” civilizations. The Bronze Sanxingdui Civilization in China and the Mayan Civilization in Mexico are examples of lost civilizations. The Indus Valley Civilization falls into the same category although its scale and extent are extraordinary. Perhaps, the most important lesson that the Indus Valley Civilization can teach us is the precariousness of the ecological balance between man and nature.

Artist’s impression of Lothal

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Chapter 2

The Vedic Age

Krishna and Arjuna

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Jyotisar. Kurukshetra• Delhi• Indraprastll Mathura•


Hastmapur.1 • KOSALA •A}•odh) a

• Mithila


Chapter 3

The Middle Path

Gandhara stone relief with scenes from the life of Buddha

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Lumbln \ ,__ l\.V;)P. LA•Kapi lava stu ~ Kuslnnra



'>: . snrnath •Pa ta hputra



Rajagtiha Bodhgaya• DECCAN

Chapter 4

Greeks at the Door


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11- - _/


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327 BCE The Jhelum River

Porus fights the Greeks

The Jhelum River

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The Jhelum River rises from a spring on the northern face of a mountain spur protruding from the Middle Himalayan Range. Flowing north through the Vale of Kashmir into Srinagar, it widens to become the Dhal Lake with its picturesque houseboats. Further north, the river enters Lake Wullar, the largest fresh water lake in the subcontinent. From the lake, the Jhelum flows into the Punjab, the land of the five rivers. In 326 BCE, in Punjab, on opposite sides of the Jhelum, which the Ancient Greeks called the Hydaspes, the armies of Alexander and Porus faced each other. The snow in the Himalayas had melted early that year and the river was flooded posing a major obstacle to any army that wanted to cross it. Here, along the Jhelum, Porus with a smaller army fought Alexander whose army was three times larger. Despite his numerical superiority, the Battle of the Hydaspes was Alexander’s most difficult battle and although the invincible Alexander won the encounter, it was a Pyrrhic victory. The determination with which the outnumbered Indians fought the Greeks, and the higher than usual casualties suffered by Alexander, demoralized his army and forced him to leave India. The Greeks, who had crossed into India through the Khyber Pass, were forced to turn back. Porus, the Greek name for King Purushotthama, was king of the lands between the rivers Jhelum and Chenab, and belonged to the Puru tribe, an ancient clan mentioned in the Rig Veda. Bhesa in Pakistani Punjab was the historic city of the Purus. Members of the Kukhran clan, who live or originate from that area, be they Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs, among whom Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the most notable, are thought to have descended from the Puru tribe. When Alexander’s messenger informed Porus that he should proceed to Taxila (Taxiles) to meet Alexander with tribute, the defiant Porus replied that he would meet Alexander in battle if Alexander entered his realm.

Porus deployed 30,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, 300 chariots and 200 war elephants south of the Jhelum to stop Alexander’s advance. The Greeks had met the Indians before in battle. Darius, the Persian emperor, had conquered Indian territory up to the Indus River. Although he did not cross the Indus, kingdoms across the river, like Taxila, paid him tribute. When Darius’ son, Xerxes, invaded Greece, a contingent of Indian bowmen accompanied the Persian army. They were clad in cotton and carried cane bows with arrows tipped with iron. Alexander was aware of Herodotus’ description of India’s wealth: “The population of Indians is by far the greatest of all the people that we know; and they paid a tribute larger than the rest; 360 talents of gold dust”. Three hundred and sixty talents of gold is estimated to weigh as much as nine tons! At the end of the year 327 BCE, Alexander divided his army into two, sending the major part through the Khyber Pass to the Indus where they were to build a bridge across the river. Meanwhile he took a smaller force north, through the foothills of the Himalayas, where he had numerous skirmishes with the tribesmen living there. In one town, he offered safe conduct to 7,000 defenders who agreed to surrender, but he dishonoured his word when he massacred all of them and their wives and children when they refused to join his army. He exterminated whole villages in the foothills to reduce any possible threat from the north when he was crossing the Indus. In April 326 BCE, the two parts of the army joined up and crossed the Indus over a pontoon bridge that had been built earlier. Alexander proceeded to Taxila where he was showered with gifts by its ruler, King Ambhi who submitted to Alexander. Ambhi has the distinction of being the first Indian king to collaborate with, and welcome a foreign invading army into India.

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The Battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum)








Crateros Second position of Porus es

p as



First position of Porus There would be many more such kings throughout the course of India’s history. When Porus refused to submit, Alexander marched his army of 130,000 to the Jhelum and camped on the north bank from where he observed Porus’ army. While the main Indian force with its war elephants was opposite Alexander’s army, Porus had also sent detachments to guard other fordable parts of the river. Alexander constantly moved his troops up and down the river to confuse Porus about his intentions. He made it obvious that he was stocking food for a long stay at the encampment, and spread the rumor that he would wait until winter when the river was easier to ford, before attempting a crossing.

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Meanwhile, his men were scouting the river for fordable points away from Porus’ main army and war elephants where they might attempt a crossing without being detected. About 28 kilometres upstream, beyond a bend in the river, there was a heavily wooded island which split the river into two narrow channels. Alexander decided he would use this island as a staging point for his river crossing and secretly hid some of his boats in a ravine on the island. On a stormy night in June, leaving his main force with instructions to cross the river only when Porus’ army had moved upstream, Alexander took 15,000 men to the island in the river to cross the Jhelum there. While lightning killed several of Alexander’s soldiers, the thunder helped mask the noise of their movements. At dawn they crossed the river on the boats that had been previously hidden. As soon as the Indian sentinels detected the Greeks, a messenger galloped to Porus with the information. Porus could not be certain of the size of the Greek force that had crossed the river. The main Greek army was still on the opposite bank visible to him. Alexander had a soldier dressed in his clothes and acting like him among the main force. Unsure if the crossing heralded a major attack, Porus sent a force of 2,000 men under the command of his son against the Greeks who had just forded the river. This was too small a force, sent too late, against the Greeks. The force was destroyed and Porus’ son was killed. When Porus realized that Alexander was leading the troops that crossed the river, he marched his army to meet the enemy. The heavy rains helped the Greeks as the wheels of the Indian chariots sank into the mud. The Greeks had archers on horseback while the Indian bowmen used a long heavy bow whose optimum function was hindered by the soggy mud which hampered the Indians who needed to steady their bow against the ground. The Greek horses were afraid of the elephants and would not go close to them limiting the effectiveness of the Greek cavalry against

the war elephants. Both sides took their time to arrange their armies in formation. The Greeks placed the infantry phalanx in the middle and the cavalry on its right. The Indians placed the war elephants in the middle with cavalry split into two and placed at either end. The Indian infantry formed up behind the elephants. The battle began with the Greek cavalry letting fly their arrows at the elephants. The Indian cavalry from both sides of the war elephants attacked the Greek cavalry. Porus sent the war elephants charging into the Greek infantry which faced terrible carnage as the elephants trampled and mauled them. The foot soldiers resorted to attacking the elephants by killing their mahouts with javelins and hacking away at the feet of the elephants. The battle continued for eight hours with neither side gaining the upper hand, during which time, the main Greek army crossed the Jhelum. Porus now faced an army in front of him and a bigger one behind him. Though he was surrounded, he continued to fight until he was overwhelmed. Casualties on both sides were high and Alexander’s famous horse, Bucephalus was killed. The wounded Porus was brought to Alexander and asked how he would like to be treated. “Like a king” was the reply. Alexander made Porus satrap or governor of his kingdom under the supervision of a Greek advisor. Alexander’s attitude towards his defeated opponents was usually brutal. When Alexander defeated the Greek city of Thebes, he had 6,000 inhabitants executed and sold the remaining 30,000 Greeks into slavery to raise funds for his Persian campaign. When the Phoenician city of Tyre fell after heavy fighting against his army, he crucified 2,000 Tyrian men on the beach and sold the remaining inhabitants into slavery. In 330 BCE, when Alexander entered Persepolis, the greatest city in the Persian Empire, which surrendered to him without a fight, he gave licence to his men to kill,

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rape and pillage at will, while he assembled 10,000 pack animals to carry the gold bullion from the treasury. Before leaving Persepolis, he burnt the city down. In Afghanistan, Alexander captured seven towns north of the Hindu Kush, executed all the men and sold the women and children into slavery. As a result, subsequent resistance in Afghanistan was especially fierce. In the skirmishes in Afghanistan, he was wounded several times suffering injury to his vision and vocal chords. Alexander intended to conquer Magadha and seize the legendary wealth of the Nandas. He believed that India was at the edge of the world and its conquest would complete his domination of the known civilized world. The Nandas were reputed to have an army of 200,000 infantry and 4,000 war elephants—a formidable force. His experience in Afghanistan showed him that his reputation for brutality was counter-productive and led to an increase in resistance to his army. Killing Porus may have created a restive population in the Punjab hostile to his forces and his supply lines, as he advanced deeper into India. Making Porus a satrap and an ally was more conducive to his purposes. In July, Alexander crossed the Chenab and Ravi rivers, and destroyed the town of Sangala after heavy fighting and suffering more than 1,200 casualties. He now intended to cross the Beas River. It was clear to his men when they observed the Himalayan ranges in the north and the plains in front of them, that they were nowhere near the end of the world close to the Eastern Ocean as claimed by Alexander. There was a rumor that twelve days journey from the Beas was an even wider river (Sutlej) with an army of 4,000 war elephants waiting to attack them should they cross the river. Plutarch wrote: “The battle with Porus depressed the spirit of the Greeks and made them most unwilling to advance further into India.”

On the banks of the Beas, the army refused to obey Alexander and expressed their desire to return home. His men had marched 25,000 kilometres fighting countless battles over eight years and they were weary of war. Alexander tried bribery to change their mind, allowing his men to loot surrounding towns, and he made payments to their wives. He appealed to their honour. An old soldier told Alexander: “If there is one thing above all other things a successful man should know, it is when to stop.” Alexander retired to his tent and refused to see anyone for three days, a ploy that worked previously. His men did not care if he starved himself to death and remained sullen and silent. Alexander then offered sacrifices for omens, which were interpreted as being unfavourable, giving Alexander a face-saving reason to turn back. His men wept with joy and called for blessings on Alexander as he had allowed himself to be defeated by them and them alone. Little did the soldiers know that the return journey from India would be more difficult than the journey into the country as the brutality of the Greek invasion had instilled in the Indians a great hatred and hostility against the invaders. Only a few of the soldiers who originally set off from Macedonia with Alexander would make it to Persia, and even fewer would return to Greece. Alexander marched his army back to the Jhelum leaving all the captured territory west of the Jhelum in the hands of his satrap, Porus. Here he was joined by reinforcements from Persia giving him an army of about 100,000 men for the return journey. Boats were built and in November 326 BCE, about 8,000 men, including Alexander, sailed down the river. The rest of the army marched along both banks. After ten days, the boats reached the confluence of the

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Jhelum and Chenab and in these turbulent waters, several boats sank. Alexander, who could not swim, narrowly escaped drowning. All along the way, as they moved down the Indus, the army had to fight its way through a hostile and combative population. At Malli (Multan), while scaling a mud citadel, Alexander was wounded by an arrow that pierced his breastplate and lodged in his chest. The injured Alexander was carried away on his shield and for several days, was unconscious. Alexander survived the wound. It took five months to reach the coast, a journey marked by bloody and difficult fighting. He blamed the brahmins for his difficulties and hanged any brahmin who fell into his hands. He asked one brahmin why he instigated his king to fight. The reply was: “Because I wished him to live with honour or die with honour.” When he reached the city of Patala, located at the head of the Indus Delta, the city was deserted as the inhabitants had fled. Alexander had to beg for some of the inhabitants to return to the city as he needed to build seaworthy boats to return home. Since only a limited number of ships could be built, Alexander decided that his army would return by marching along the inhospitable Makran coast. The Makran is a hot barren desert and to avoid the scorching heat, the army marched only at night. While camping in a gully, a flash flood washed away most of the women, children, pack animals and the baggage train. Many soldiers drowned and many of the survivors lost their possessions and arms. Many died of hunger and thirst and less than a quarter

of the army survived the death march. Towards the end of 325 BCE, after sixty days of travel across the Makran, Alexander and his men straggled into Persia. Two years later, in 323 BCE, Alexander died in Babylon. His generals made a pact, “The Partition of Babylon”, which divided Alexander’s empire amongst them. In this pact, Porus was confirmed as Satrap of Jhelum. However, the pact broke down and Alexander’s generals were soon fighting each other. In 317 BCE, the departing Greek general in Punjab treacherously killed Porus in order to secure his war elephants. Within a few years, the Greek troops who had not departed India were killed by the Indians. The brief Greek intrusion into India was over. There is little in Indian records about the Greek or the Persian intrusions into India. The Greek records of Alexander’s journey, however, provide us with a fascinating glimpse of India. The most lasting impact of the Persian and Greek interlude may be on the development of a standardized Indian written script. The Persians kept their official records in Aramaic which had been standardized by the Persian emperors. Existing Indian scripts became standardized along the principles of the Aramaic script to become the Brahmi script, which was used to record Sanskrit and Pali. All written Indian scripts in use today originate from Brahmi. Although Alexander did not create a lasting empire, Chandragupta who met Alexander in Taxila, learnt enough from Alexander to create what Alexander could not, – an enduring empire.

Chapter 4 G g r e e k s at t h e d o o r

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Chapter 5

The Science of Government

Chanakya Kautilya

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321 BCE Pataliputra

Kautilya enthrones his protege as India’s first Emperor

Patna Museum

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Patna, on the southern bank of the Ganges at its junction with the Son, lies over the ancient city of Pataliputra. Though it is the capital of a state with more than eighty million people, it is a modest sized city in need of maintenance. There is little evidence of the past grandeur of Pataliputra, the greatest city of ancient India, except perhaps, at the Patna Museum where exquisite polished sandstone sculptures from the Mauryan period are exhibited. There is a faint glimpse of the ancient city about six kilometres from the train station, at Kumhrar, where excavations at a waterlogged site have revealed remnants of an eighty-pillared hall. Bihar has many developmental priorities to address before it can embark on excavations to uncover the lost city of Pataliputra beneath the several meters of alluvial laid down by the Ganges. Meanwhile, the magnificence of the city can be inferred from the accounts of the Greek ambassadors to the Mauryan court. Megasthenese, the Greek ambassador at the court of Chandragupta Maurya, described the extent of Pataliputra as a parallelogram, 14 kilometres from east to west along the river and three kilometres from north to south. It was protected by massive timber palisades that were pierced by sixty-four gates and protected by watchful eyes from five hundred and seventy towers. The city exceeded the splendour of the Persian city of Susa and was, for that period, probably the greatest city in the world. A broad deep moat encircled the city serving both as a defensive barrier and as a sewer. In the year 321 BCE, in this city, Kautilya enthroned his protege Chandragupta Maurya as King of Magadha and India’s first Emperor. Kautilya was a brahmin Jain from the South Indian village of Chanaka. Although endowed with a brilliant mind, he was hideously ugly and had deformities in his limbs. After studying at Taxila, he sought his fortune in Pataliputra, where his scholarship gained him the position of president of the Sangha, an assembly of academics. When he took the seat of honour at the royal court reserved

for the president of the Sangha, presumably without the consent of the Nanda king, he was unceremoniously thrown out. The bitter Kautilya defiantly cursed the king but escaped punishment for his defiance by leaving the city undetected, walking out of the city disguised as a naked ascetic, the most effective disguise for the normally well-attired academic. In the Arthasastra, or Science of Government, Kautilya wrote that: “All undertakings depend on finance.” In order to fund his revenge, Kautilya used his knowledge of metallurgy to convert one Magadhan coin into eight counterfeit coins, by reminting them with additional cheap metal. He needed an instrument to bring down the Nandas and purchased for that purpose the young boy, Chandragupta, from a hunter for 1,000 Magadhan coins. The hunter had purchased Chandragupta from his father, a poor peacock (mayura) breeder. Maurya became the surname of Chandragupta when he became emperor. The life of a hunter had physically hardened the boy and suitably prepared him to be a bandit or an outlaw. Kautilya came across the boy one day, when the boy was playing king with his gang of friends. And to test the boy, he asked the boy for a royal gift. The boy pointed to a herd of cattle belonging to someone else and replied: “The earth is for the enjoyment of heroes.” Kautilya took the boy to Taxila where he educated and trained the boy with the purpose of bringing down the Nandas. Alexander’s invasion of India in 326 BCE had upset the political structure and power balance in the Punjab. King Ambhi submitted to Alexander and invited him to Taxila. Chandragupta, “Sandracottes” to the Greeks, met with Alexander and encouraged him to fight the Nandas, saying that:

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“The Nanda king was detested and held cheap by his subjects.” Chandragupta’s boldness of speech offended Alexander and earned him a sentence of death, which he escaped by fleeing in time. Alexander was eager for more conquest, but his men decided otherwise and at the Beas River, the Greek army turned back to return home. The anarchy that followed the aftermath of Alexander’s withdrawal provided new opportunities for the advancement of Chandragupta and his mentor. Alexander had destroyed the traditional power structure that had kept law and order in the land and his troops appropriated the livestock of many tribesmen, destroying the pastoral economy. Alexander had placed Greek satraps and colonists in charge, but when rumour of Alexander’s serious wound in distant Malloi reached the Punjab, 3,000 Greek colonists decided to return home. Into this power vacuum, Chandragupta stepped in and recruited a band of “robbers”, the term for the mercenary riff-raff willing to risk their lives for a chance at wealth. He put to death the Greek satraps and made himself master of the tribal tracts in the northwest. He then made his foray into Magadha but was defeated by the population which rose in unison to vanquish the invaders. Chandragupta’s powerbase was too small, his forces too weak, and his tactics wrong in his first foray against the Nandas. Following the setback, legend has it that he overheard a mother scold her son. The mother had just cooked an Indian pancake which has a thick centre and thin margins. The centre was scalding hot while the margins had cooled and when the greedy son ate from the centre, he burnt his mouth. The mother asked him to eat from the margins first and attack the centre last. Chandragupta decided he would adopt this strategy against Magadha. He strengthened his powerbase through a series of alliances with kings in the north-west and systematically attacked the outlying Nanda provinces one by one,

defeating and garrisoning each with his soldiers. Finally, in 321 BCE, he captured Pataliputra and put to death the last Nanda king. The twenty-five year old Chandragupta Maurya made his entry into the palace at midnight as suggested by the augers and was ritually enthroned by Kautilya. By 317 BCE, Chandragupta was in control of the lands of his former allies in the Punjab and ruled an empire that stretched from the Indus to the Bay of Bengal. He now shared a border in the northwest with territories controlled by Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander’s generals. When Alexander died in 323 BCE, his three generals divided his empire among themselves with Seleucus inheriting the core territory of the Persian kingdom. Seleucus was almost immediately locked in a contest of arms with the rival generals in Macedonia and Egypt to determine the extent of his inheritance. When Seleucus felt his borders with the other two Greek generals were secure, he turned his attention to the east and in 305 BCE, he brought his army across the Indus to engage Chandragupta’s forces. The collision did not favour Seleucus and he was obliged to enter into a treaty with Chandragupta, which included a marriage alliance between his daughter and the Mauryan Emperor. Seleucus ceded all the land from Herat to the Indus to his new son-in-law and in return received 500 war elephants. With a secure border in the northwest, Chandragupta unleashed his massive army of 600,000 men on the Deccan and brought most of the Indian subcontinent under his control. The empire was so large it needed two secondary capitals–Taxila in the Punjab and Ujjain in Malwa, where royal princes served as viceroys. Chandragupta had learnt a lesson in emperorship from Alexander’s failure in that although Alexander was brilliant in his military conquests, his administrative skills did not match the innovativeness of his battle strategies, and so he

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had little administrative control of conquered areas as soon as he left the place. Under Kautilya’s tutelage, the young emperor set about building a system of government suitable for an empire. Before the Nandas ruled the Gangetic plain, kings ruled through the assistance of family members and the extended clan, all of whom belonged to the kshatriya caste. When the Nandas, who were members of the shudra caste, seized power, the kshatriyas reacted against their rule, which led the Nandas to exterminate most of them. Megasthenes observed that when Chandragupta, who was either a vaishya or shudra, became emperor, he divided his subjects into seven classes. At the pinnacle were the philosophers who performed the public sacrifices, learnt the ancient texts, gave blessings to kings and led a life of abstinence and frugality. The second class consisted of the majority of his subjects—the cultivators. They were responsible for producing food and remitted one fourth of their agricultural output as tax. They did not have to serve in the army. The third class consisted of the herdsmen and hunters who brought a proportion of their cattle or catch to the cities as tax and received corn in return. Traders, artisans, and craftsmen belonged to the fourth class. Paid soldiers who formed the professional Mauryan standing army were members of the fifth class. The sixth class consisted of the thousands of spies that the state employed. The spies provided intelligence for the administration and instilled fear in the populace. The seventh class constituted the members of the political ruling elite. Although the high caste kshatriyas were decimated, the brahmins maintained their social position by acquiescing to the new order. The Nandas and the Mauryas resented the hereditary privileges of the brahmins and supported the more egalitarian sects. Chandragupta became a Jain, his son Bindusara became a follower of the Ajivika sect which believed in equality of men, and his grandson Asoka became a Buddhist.

Statue of Bhadrabahu at Shravanabelagola

Around 300 BCE, during a famine, Chandragupta abdicated his throne to his son Bindusara and accompanied his Jain teacher, Bhadrabahu, to Shravanabelagola near Mysore in Karnataka. He spent his last days as an ascetic in meditation and ended his life by self starvation, the most worthy end for a Jain. Today, Shravanabelagola is a town with many Jain temples including one in a cave on a small hill, Chandragiri, to mark the site of Chandragupta’s death. On the larger hill, Vindyagiri, stands a seventeen metre high monolithic stone statue of Bhadrabahu, probably the largest monolithic statue of a person in the world. The statue has inscriptions at its base in Tamil, Kannada, and the oldest evidence of written Marathi. Every twelve years, a spectacular religious Jain ceremony with thousands of devotees is celebrated here. The next ceremony will occur in 2018.

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Bindusara extended the limits of the empire by conquering another sixteen kingdoms. Only the three friendly southern kingdoms of Chola, Pandya and Cheras and the eastern kingdom of Kalinga remained outside of the empire. Bindusara died in 272 BCE and was succeeded by his son Asoka four years later. Kautilya continued to serve as minister for some time after the accession of Bindusara. After having presided over the Mauryan government for several decades, Kautilya retired to a hermitage and wrote the Arthasastra as a guide for future kings. The treatise is based on Kautilya’s own experience in setting up the Mauryan government bureaucracy for Chandragupta and his son. Artha means “wealth and power” and the Arthasastra is concerned with the practical aspects of maintaining power over a territory and managing its wealth. The treatise, written in 5,348 verses of Sanskrit, describes how a king should maintain centralized control over his domains. The ideal government as described by Kautilya was an absolute monarchy in which the good of the people was equated with the good of the monarch. He proposed the principal function of a king in the following terms: “In the happiness of his subjects is the happiness of the king; in their welfare is his welfare”. The Arthasastra analyses how the political world functions and the calculating and sometimes harsh measures a king must take to preserve the state for the common good. It lays out a detailed schedule for the king. Each day was to be divided into sixteen periods. The king was allowed three periods (four and a half hours) for sleep, two periods (three hours) for meals and baths, and one period (one and a half hours) for recreation. The remaining ten periods or fifteen hours a day was to be spent on state duties, such as consulting his ministers, reviewing finances, checking on the army, receiving petitions and administering justice.

Since a king was always in danger of being assassinated, poisoned or overthrown, extensive security measures were prescribed for his safety. His private living quarters were to be located in a labyrinth in the centre of a fortified citadel. The building of this structure was to be undertaken by convicts who were to be executed after its completion. Every object that entered the palace complex was examined, recorded and fixed with a seal. Food was freshly cooked and offered to birds before consumption by the king. The servants and personal guards of the king were entirely composed of women who were specially trained for their profession. Since sovereignty was possible only with assistance, the king was advised by a privy council of three to four royal advisors. The execution of policy was in the hands of a council of twelve to sixteen ministers who controlled an extensive bureaucracy. The state was a good employer and officials were well paid, with the highest officials earning 48,000 panas a year. In comparison, an artisan was paid 120 panas. The elimination of corruption was a major preoccupation of Kautilya. He said that: “Just as it is impossible not to taste honey that one may find at the tip of one’s tongue, so it is impossible for one dealing with government funds not to taste, at least a little bit, of the king’s wealth.” Since none could be trusted, officials were frequently transferred to curtail corruption. Corrupt officials were severely punished and informers who reported on corrupt officials were protected and given a part of the amount involved as a reward. Kautilya considered corruption inevitable and devised stern counter-measures to limit its impact. “Just as it is impossible to know when a fish moving in water was drinking it, so it is impossible to find out when government servants in charge of undertakings were misappropriating funds.”

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To apprehend wrong-doers, a vast network of spies and informers were on the state’s payroll. The best and most faithful were appointed as inspectors and they were entrusted with the supervision of all that was going on, and reported directly to the king. The inspectors managed an extensive network of fixed and wandering spies that included city courtesans and female camp followers of easy virtue.

Ceylon and Persia. Musicians, actors, and dancers paid proportional income tax, while gambling, the sale of liquor and prostitution were revenue-generating state enterprises. There was a toll on the use of state maintained roads. The tax system was remarkably similar to that of a modern state today. Kautilya understood the relationship between power and the proper management of state finances, and he said: “From the Treasury, comes the power of the government.”

Kautilya did not think much of brahmin soldiers whose loyalty he suspected. He praised the ordinary men of the vaishya and shudra caste for their energy and strength. Kautilya expected much from his soldiers, because they not only had to be courageous in battle but disciplined in victory. They were to spare those who surrendered. Only the leaders of opposing armies were executed. Kautilya believed that enemy soldiers who believed that they would be spared would surrender while those who believed that they would be killed would fight to the end. The soldiers were also not allowed to pillage the land so that the grateful conquered population would support the assimilation of their lands into the empire.

Kautilya and Chandragupta had witnessed the horrors suffered by the Indian populace when Alexander and his foreign army invaded India. They believed it was the duty of a king to take all necessary steps to build a strong state which ultimately benefited the people since it provided security against foreign invasions and attacks. The centralized empire they created ensured peace and stability for most of the Indian subcontinent for a century. The failure of future Indian Kings to apply the lessons of the Arthasastra would lead to a fragmented weak India ready for exploitation, first by the foreign Afghan and Central Asian invaders and later by the British. Despite their success in conquering large parts of the Indian subcontinent, neither the Moguls nor the British Raj managed to create an Indian empire of Mauryan proportions or benevolence.

Maintaining a well-paid and extensive civilian and military administration required an equally extensive and well-organized revenue collecting machinery. The Arthasastra laid down the principles of taxation and financial administration. All land belonged to the state which collected a sixth of the agricultural produce as tax. It also levied taxes on forest produce, the mining of metals and the production of salt. There was a twenty per cent import tax on foreign goods brought in from China,

The Arthasastra is a treatise on good governance, a prerequisite for prosperity. While modern India has a large extensive bureaucracy that matches the one created by Kautilya, there is scope for improvement of its governance. If the lessons in Arthasastra were applied, public sector officers would be paid more and corruption dealt with more vigorously.

C h a p t e r 5 t h e Sc science of government

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Chapter 6

Remorse at Kalinga


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Chapter 7

Martyrdom at Mylapore

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

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52 CE Kerala (Malankala)

Thomas brings a new religion to India

Santhome Church, Mylapore

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Of the twelve apostles of Jesus, churches have been built over the tombs of only three of them – the Basilica over the tomb of Peter at the Vatican, the Cathedral of Santiago over the tomb of James in Spain and the Santhome over the tomb of Thomas in Mylapore, a suburb of Madras. Madras, renamed Chennai, during a bout of exuberant regional pride, is the capital of Tamil Nadu. A city of more than seven million people, it is India’s fourth largest metropolis and a rising star in the global information and communications industry. It is in the most Dravidian of the four southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka. Dravidian culture originates from the south of India and in relative terms, it was subject to less foreign influence than Indian culture in the north. The Mauryan Empire had initiated an era of international trade and economic growth in India that continued for several centuries after the collapse of the empire. Along these international trade routes, a new religion, Christianity, was brought to India by Thomas, one of the original twelve apostles. After preaching for twenty years, Thomas was killed in 72 CE at a hillock in Mylapore. The hillock is now named after him – Saint Thomas Mount. His body was buried a short distance away and the gothic church, Santhome, was built over the tomb. When Asoka died in 232 BCE after ruling for thirtyseven years, his grandsons divided the empire. Through a succession of weak kings, the Mauryan Empire began its journey of decline. In 180 BCE, the last Mauryan king was assassinated during a military parade by his brahmin commander-in-chief, Pushyamitra Shunga. Although Pushyamitra managed to stop the advance of the Bactrians and stabilized the borders of the empire to the Gangetic plain, his persecution of the Buddhist community within his empire weakened its internal cohesion. After several Shunga kings on the throne at Pataliputra, the empire or what was left of it had shrunk to an area smaller than the

original Magadhan state. The last Shunga king, a man overly fond of women, was in his turn assassinated by the daughter of his concubine at the behest of his brahmin minister, Kanva. The decline continued under several Kanva kings and the Magadhan kingdom disappeared into oblivion in 28 BCE. The vacuum created by the progressive shrinkage of the centralized Mauryan Empire was filled by regional powers with the rise of Kalinga in Orissa, the Andhra kingdom in the Deccan and the Bactro-Greek kingdoms in the northwest. Kalinga, the last acquisition of Asoka, grew in power in the first century BCE. Under its energetic ruler, Kharavela, its borders were extended and it absorbed much of the Magadhan kingdom. Being a Jain, Kharavela promoted the building of Jain monasteries. A long biographical inscription of Kharavela’s life found at the Elephant Cave in Orissa gives us a sketch of the attributes of royalty in the post-Mauyran feudal society. In the inscriptions, Kharavela claimed descent from Vasu which would create a geneology that could be traced back to mythic figures in the Vedic epics. His first fifteen years were spent in youthful sports. At the age of fifteen, he was appointed heir apparent and was trained in writing, finance, and law. At the age of twenty-five, he was crowned king. In his first year as king, he repaired gates, walls, buildings, embankments, and cisterns, and restored damaged gardens at a cost of 35,000 units of currency. In his second year, he attacked the Andhra kings. In his fourth year, he attacked the Rathikas and the Bhojakas. In his fifth year, he extended the canals that were originally built by the Nandas. In his eighth year, he threatened Demetrius, the Indo-Greek king and collected gifts.

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He built a royal residence at a cost of 3,800,000 units of currency. In his tenth year, he crossed the Krishna River and attacked the Tamil kingdoms. In his twelfth year he brought back the riches of Magadha and Anga to Kalinga. He considered himself the king of peace, of prosperity, of the monks and of their teachings. After Kharavela, the Kalinga kingdom receded back to its original borders. The Andhra kings came from the region of the Godavari and Krishna rivers, corresponding to the state of Andhra Pradesh. They extended their rule to include central and western Deccan. One of their kings, Satakarni conquered Pataliputra and ended the Kanva dynasty. They were the dominant power in the Deccan until the first century BCE when they were forced back to their Andhra lands by the Sakas from the northwest. In the northwest, the decline of the Seluccid Empire left Parthia independent under Persian kings and Bactria independent under Greek kings. While the Parthians battled the Roman legions in the west and stopped the further advance of Rome into Asia, the Bactrians moved east into India and set up Indo-Greek kingdoms. The Greeks and Romans were known as Yavanas in India, a corruption of “Ionians”. The most famous of the Yavana kings was Menander who converted to Buddhism and was the subject of an important Buddhist text. Milinda Panho is a record of the purported philosophical discussion between King Menander and the Buddhist monk Nagasena. The Scythians from central Asia followed the Bactrians into India where they were known as the Sakas. They drove the Andhra kings out of the western and central Deccan and settled in these regions. A Saka king, Gondophernes, was the first Christian ruler in India. In the south, the kingdoms of Chola, Pandya, and Chera jostled for power. In 190 BCE, the Cholas invaded Sri Lanka and occupied its northern regions for about fifty years before being driven out by the Sri Lankan King.

Our knowledge of south India during this era comes from the Sangam literature which is an anthology of the earliest Tamil works composed by numerous bards and poets who gathered in Madurai. This literature consists of the Tolkappiyam, a work on Tamil grammar, and Ettuttogai which consisted of eight anthologies of poetry. Another major contributor to Tamil literature in the first century BCE was Thiruvalluvar. Born into a weaver’s family, he lived in Mylapore and composed the Thirukkural, a work consisting of 1,330 couplets. Unlike the Vedic epics which dealt with religious and mythical subjects, the Tamil works dealt mainly with domestic life. Many poems described military raids and plunders, the Yavana communities, trade and city life, and cultural practices like the capturing of brides. In 25 BCE, the Pandyan king sent an embassy to Rome with presents of exotic Indian animals for Augustus Caesar. This was the period when Rome was at its mightiest. However, the Parthians stood between the Roman world and India making the land route subject to the state of affairs in Parthia. According to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, an ancient maritime manual, Hippalus discovered the monsoon winds in 45 BCE. Egypt was conquered by the Romans in 30 BCE. The demand for luxury goods and exotic items by the new rich in Rome was insatiable. It was initially presumed that the Indian coastline ran in an eastwest direction. The appreciation that the western coast of India ran in a north-south direction meant that the shortest route from Egypt to India was across the open sea. Large ships left the Egyptian port of Berenice and sailed to the port of Cranganore (Musiris) on the Malabar Coast. The 40-day journey to India used the monsoons in July and August. In January and February, the ships sailed back when the monsoons had reversed direction. The journey across the ocean was a much safer trade route than that along the coast or the land route.

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Goods moved between the Malabar and Coromandel coasts overland through the Coimbatore gap in the Western Ghats. The port of Arikamedu (Pondicherry) on the Coromandel coast received ships bringing spices, teak, and other luxury goods from Southeast Asia. Indian kings on both the Coromandel and the Malabar coasts grew rich through the trade of goods from the East, the West and other parts of India. The Mauryan Empire had built and maintained a good system of roads that connected the major towns in the subcontinent. This was a necessity for centralized control. The road linkages facilitated internal trade within India. The demand for goods led to production being organized on a larger scale. Guilds and artisan associations were formed. They increased productivity and maintained the quality of products for export. As the taxes on the goods manufactured or traded were an important source of income for the regional powers that ruled India, despite periodic wars, the rulers who controlled the trade routes encouraged trade by providing security for merchants. In time, members of guilds and artisan groups were considered as members of a job-based caste category. With wealth from trade and manufacturing, members of these castes became more powerful and influential, and they often financed the construction of religious buildings. Thomas, a Jew, was born in Judea and became one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. According to his fellow apostle, John, Thomas doubted the resurrection of Christ and insisted on feeling the wounds of Jesus. This earned him the epitaph “Doubting Thomas”. Following the crucifixion of Jesus, his disciples decided to spread the teachings of Jesus to the known countries of the world among themselves for conversion to the new faith. India was known to Jewish traders and a Jewish settlement was reputed to exist from the time of Solomon. Periodic Roman persecution of Jews

ensured a continuous flow of Jewish migrants to India and there was a well-settled community of Jews in the first century. Thomas was allotted all the countries in the East and India as his to preach and convert. In 52 CE, Thomas indentured himself as a carpenter to a Jewish trader, Habban, who had arrived in Jerusalem from India. They sailed to Cranganore in Kerala. Thomas stayed for eight days during which time he converted some of the Jewish settlers. Thomas travelled north to Taxila where he was commissioned to build a palace for the Saka king, Gondophernes. Thomas distributed to the poor the money given to him by the king for building the palace and so he was imprisoned. When the king’s brother died, the king had a dream in which his brother told him that Thomas had built a palace in heaven for their use. Thomas was freed and Gondophernes converted to Christianity. Although the Saka kingdom was the first Christian kingdom in the world, the impact of this development was short-lived. When the Kushans replaced the Sakas as the dominant power in the north, Christianity lost its state sponsorship. During the period of Muslim rule, Christianity in North India was annihilated. Today, the tiny community of Christians in the diocese of Vasai in Bassien has probably the only surviving descendants of North Indian Saint Thomas Christianity. Thomas returned to Kerala and continued to preach. In 66 CE, the Jews in Jerusalem revolted against the Romans. Vespasian and Titus led the Roman legions and recaptured the city and in 70 CE destroyed the Temple of Solomon. This upheaval caused many more Jews to leave Judea and some travelled to India. Thomas converted many of these Jews and about seventy-five Brahmin families. He ordained a Jew by the name of Kepha (Peter) as bishop over the congregation. Seven churches were established along the Malabar Coast.

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The National Shrine of St Thomas Basilica also known as Santhome Church in Mylapore

When Thomas travelled to the Coromandel coast, the reception he received was less welcoming. While the king of Mylapore was friendly, his ministers were hostile. Thomas sought refuge in a cave on a small hill (Little Mount) for his safety but he continued to preach. His teachings were having an impact as some believed that the water at a nearby spring had healing powers due to his intercession. While praying at the hillock called Big Mount (now named Saint Thomas Mount), he was speared by his enemies in front of a granite cross. The cross was recovered in the sixteenth century and is reputed to have the blood stains of Thomas. The cross was incorporated into the wall of the shrine at Saint Thomas Mount. The history of the church in India mirrors the liturgical complexity found in Judeo-Christianity. In 345 CE, Thomas of Cana (Knanaya) led seventy-two Judeo-Christian families from Edessa (in Southeast Turkey) to Kerala or Malankala as it was then called. They sailed in three ships under the flag of David and were granted permission to settle down and trade in Kodungallur. Many of the Jews who had migrated before Thomas of Cana came from the northern tribes of Israel. These Jews and other Christian converts were exogamous and were called Northists. The Knanaya Jewish Christians were from the southern tribes of Israel and they maintained close ties with the nonChristian Jews. They were called Southists and did not marry other Christians. Although they introduced Eastern Syrian Christian practices to Kerala, they also maintained some of their Jewish traditions. The early Indian Christians accepted the Patriarch of Edessa as the head of their Church and the practices of the Edessa Church (Eastern Syrian) as part of their liturgy. During this period some of the relics of Thomas were sent to Edessa where a church was built to house them. Later, in the thirteenth century, when Edessa was under Muslim rule and there were few Christians living in the city, these relics were transferred to Ortana, Italy.

C h a p t e r 7 M ART Y r d om AT M Y L AP O RE

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In 431 CE, in Europe, a split occurred between the Church in Edessa and the unified Orthodox Church and Catholic Church as a result of a dispute over the status of Mary, when Nestorius of Constantinople refused to accept Mary as the mother of God and only acknowledged her as the mother of Jesus. The Nestorian schism was the precursor to the Monophysite schism, a dispute over the singularity of god or his existence as a trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). This schism would lead to more Christians being killed for heresy by fellow Christians than the number killed by Roman persecution.

Despite divisions in Europe, the Syrian Church in India remained undivided for more than 1,400 years until the arrival of the Portuguese. When the Catholic Portuguese Admiral, Vasco da Gama, sailed into Calicut in Kerala, he found Christians whose East Syrian religious practices were considered heresy by the Catholic Church. They attempted to Latinize the Indian Christians and started a Latin diocese in Goa and in Cochin. In 1599, at the Synod of Diamper, the Catholic Archbishop imposed Latin practices on the Indian Christians. Many of the ancient Syrian Christian manuscripts were burnt as the Portuguese tried to eradicate the identity of the Indian Christians and impose the colonial Catholic Church on them. In 1637, the Indian Christians under the leadership of Deacon Thomas protested against the domination of the Latin clergy. In response to the request from the Indian Christians, in 1653, the Patriarch of Antioch sent Ignatius Ahatulla to Kerala. The Portuguese arrested Ahatulla, tied him up and cast him into the sea. This agitated the Indian Christians and 25,000 gathered at Mattancherry and took the “Oath of the Koonam Cross” swearing to fight the atrocities of the Latin Church.

Stained glass window above altar at Santhome Church

The Protestant Dutch defeated the Portuguese in 1655 and became the dominant maritime power in the East. The Patriarch of Antioch now sent Mar Gregorius on a Dutch ship to Kerala to serve the Indian Christians. Unknown to most Indian Christians at that time, the Syrian Church had split into East and West. The East Syrian Church led by the Patriarch of Baghdad continued to follow the ancient Syrian Christian liturgy while the West Syrian Church at Antioch had introduced the St James liturgy. The majority of the Christians who took the Coonam Cross oath accepted Mar Gregorius as their leader, but some did not and waited until Mar Gabriel from the East Syrian Church arrived in 1701 to lead them. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, which was no more in a position of power, tried reconciliation and were successful in getting some of the congregations

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that previously opposed them to accept communion with the Catholic Church. Some congregations were influenced by Anglican practices and entered into communion with the Anglican Church. Today there are many Christian families in Kerala that claim descent from the early Brahmin converts or the Jewish settlers. The Saint Thomas Christians classify themselves into various castes and have blended into the Hindu environment. This may have been a necessity in order to survive under Hindu rulers. Though the St Thomas Christians are deeply devoted to their Christian belief, they show Hindu and Jewish features in their religious practice. With the arrival of the Europeans, their church splintered and there are now at least seven separate churches serving them – the Mar Thoma Church, the Malabar Independent Syrian Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Indian Orthodox Church, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, and the Chaldean Syrian Church. Christianity conquered Europe, but in India it did not enjoy the same success. Peter and Paul disseminated the religion among the poor and the dispossessed within the Roman Empire. Within the Roman Empire, it was an egalitarian religion that made everyone equal before God. Jesus had blessed the meek as “they would inherit the world”. After three hundred years, the meek prevailed and their religion worked its way up the social strata culminating in the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. In India, Thomas had success with a king, successful Jewish settlers and the high caste brahmin families who were at the apex of the social strata of India. These Christian converts did not seek to spread the egalitarian religion to those lower down the social strata and kept the religion within their social group. Ultimately, this restricted the spread of the religion and marginalized its impact on the subcontinent. Jesus was right—the meek will inherit the world.

Statue of the Virgin Mary, Santhome Church

C h a p t e r 7 M ART Y r d om AT M Y L AP O RE

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Chapter 8

Valley of Blood

Kanishka as portrayed on a gold coin

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• Xian •




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152 CE Khunjerab Pass

Kanishka crosses the Pamir Mountains

The Khunjerab Pass

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India and China are separated by the great wall of Himalayan Mountains that leads into the Karakoram and the Pamirs. Across this barrier, from spring to autumn, the Khunjerab Pass, at an elevation of more than 14,000 feet, allows travellers to cross between the Indian subcontinent and Xinjiang Province in China. The bandits who preyed on the monks and traders made the journey hazardous and earned the pass its name, as “Khunjerab” in the local language means “Valley of Blood”. North of the pass lies the arid Taklimakan Desert fringed by a few small towns that served as resting points on the ancient Silk Road that linked China to the Roman Empire. Beyond this desolate terrain, from the Steppes of Central Asia to Siberia, lived nomadic tribes who periodically invaded the civilized lands of India, China, and Europe.

The first emperor, Qinshihuangti, unified China in 221 BCE. To protect the country from the Xiongnu, he initiated the building of defensive fortifications between China and the barren lands north of the country. The defensive wall with intermittent forts was built through the labour of millions and paid for with countless lives. It was extended and strengthened over the centuries, across 6,000 kilometres of desolate terrain, to become the Great Wall of China.

In the first century CE, a horde of nomads called the Yuezhi displaced the last known Saka king, the Christian ruler Gondophernes, from north-west India and ruled their domains from Peshawar in Gandhara. Their greatest king, Kanishka, sent his armies up the Indus River, through the Hunza valley, across the Khunjerab Pass and conquered the towns of Khotan, Yarkland, and Kashgar. In the process, he opened up a secure direct route from India to China as the conquered towns, which lie on the southern fringe of the Taklimakan Desert, were major stops on the Silk Road between China and the Roman Empire. Along this route, India’s most enduring export, Mahayana Buddhism, spread to East Asia. We know of the early history of the Yuezhi from the Records of the Grand Historian of the great Chinese historian, Sima Qian, and from the subsequent Imperial records, The Annals of the Early and Late Han. China in ancient times had a history of episodic invasions from the north by savage tribes who were collectively known as the Xiongnu. To the west of these tribes, in western Gansu lived the Yuezhi, a less ferocious people than the Xiongnu.

Pakistan–China Border at the Khunjerab Pass

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After the short-lived Qin dynasty, the next dynasty, the Han dynasty, launched attacks against the Xiongnu. In 200 BCE, the Xiongnu tribes united against the Han and defeated the Chinese armies that had been arraigned against them. The humiliated Han Emperor was forced to accept the Xiongnu as equals, proffered gifts as tokens of friendship and agreed to supply royal Han princesses to the harems of the Xiongnu. In return, the Xiongnu accepted the Great Wall as the boundary between their territories. Having imposed their treaty on the Chinese, the Xiongnu refrained from attacking China and instead turned their savage energies westwards against the Yuezhi. In 177 BCE, they killed the Yuezhi king and made a drinking cup of his skull. The Xiongnu chief boasted to the Han Emperor that due to “the excellence of his fighting men, and the strength of his horses, he had succeeded in wiping out the Yuezhi”. However, not all the Yuezhi perished in the onslaught and the courageous wife of the Yuezhi king led the survivors westwards to the lands on the northern bank of the Oxus River, in present day Uzbekistan. The inhabitants of these lands who were less warlike than the Yuezhi were easily overpowered and became their vassals. The gifts paid by the Han state to the Xiongnu were a burden on Chinese state revenues. In 129 BCE, the Han Emperor, after careful preparation launched a full-scale war on the Xiongnu. The Xiongnu were defeated and thousands of them were killed. It was now the turn of the Xiongnu to face extermination. The survivors fled west to the inhospitable Tarim Basin. The Han Emperor’s armies pursued the Xiongnu across the Tarim Basin and in the process secured control of the Silk Road. Sima Qian writes in the Historical Record:

“The Chinese, wishing to declare war on the Xiongnu to wipe them out desired to establish contact with the Yuezhi; but the road to them led through the territory of the Xiongnu. The Emperor called for volunteers.” Zhang Qian volunteered and in 120 BCE, he set off to the west with a caravan of 100 men. He was captured by the Xiongnu and spent ten years in captivity before escaping. He and his company then made for the region where the Yuezhi were thought to habitat, only to find that they had moved even further west. As his party travelled on, they encountered prosperous and peaceful countries that welcomed them. Zhang Qian was surprised by the wealth of these lands, particularly the jade and agricultural products like grapes and wine. The powerful magnificent horses of this region were so impressive that the Chinese believed them to sweat blood. The Central Asian horses were larger in size and of greater speed and endurance than the Chinese horses. He discovered that China was not the only civilization in the world and that Chinese silk was being traded with civilizations in the west and south of Central Asia. Zhang Qian eventually found the Yuezhi who had given up their nomadic life and lived under five chiefdoms. But his hopes of forming a military alliance were disappointed as the Yuezhi had settled in a rich and fertile land, seldom harassed by robbers. They preferred their life of peace. On his return to China, he brought back the first description of India based on what he had heard about the country. He was told: “Southeast of Bactria is the kingdom of Shendu [India]. The region is said to be hot and damp. The inhabitants ride elephants when they go into battle. The kingdom is situated on a great river.”

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Around 40 CE, Khadiphes I united the five Yuezhi chiefdoms and expanded the kingdom southwards into India by conquering Peshawar and Taxila. His son, Khadiphes II, who succeeded him in 78 CE, continued the expansion and conquered Kashmir. However his ambition and sense of self importance led him into conflict with the Chinese. The king of Kashgar had rejected Chinese overtures and threatened the security of trade on the Silk Road. The Han Emperor sent General Ban Chao with a mounted army to secure Kashgar and the western reaches of the Silk Road. With the help of Khadiphes II, General Ban captured the Kashgar king. General Ban then conquered all the territory up to the Caspian Sea and to the borders of the Roman Empire. To provide security for traders and travellers, he built forts and garrisons along the Silk Road, from Cephiston in Mesopotamia which marked the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire, to Chang’an (Xian). Envoys from the Roman Emperor Trajan travelled along this secure route to China. Khadiphes II demanded from General Ban a royal Han princess as a bride to signify his equal status with the Han Emperor. The dispatch of royal princesses to foreign lands as brides was reminiscent of the humiliation the Han Chinese had endured after their defeat by the Xiongnu two hundred and fifty years earlier. General Ban refused to consider the demand. Feeling insulted, the Kushan king sent an army of 70,000 cavalry across the Khunjerab Pass to attack the Chinese. The journey across the Pamirs was difficult and when the exhausted men and beasts met the Chinese army on the plains outside Yarkland, they were easily defeated. Khadiphes II was forced to sue for peace with General Ban and agreed to send tribute to the Han Emperor. The next king was Kanishka, the greatest of the Kushan kings, who expanded the kingdom into the mid-Gangetic plain and Indus valley. Around 152 CE, he sent his armies across the Khunjerab Pass and avenged the defeat of his

predecessor by capturing Khotan, Yarkland, and Kashgar from the Chinese. A direct route from India to China opened up and remained under Kushan control for over a hundred years. The security provided by the Kushans encouraged travel between China and India and facilitated the spread of Mahayana Buddhism to China. Kanishka spent much of his life waging successful wars in the inhospitable lands north of the Khunjerab Pass. Apparently, weary of the constant battles on difficult terrain, one of his officers smothered Kanishka to death. The Kushan rulers were tolerant to all the religions in their domain, although Kanishka himself was partial to Buddhism in his later years. He built a towering Buddhist Stupa at Peshawar where Buddha’s alms bowl was kept. The Buddhist monk, Faxian described the Tower of Buddha’s Bowl in his Record of the Buddhistic Kingdoms as the greatest structure in the world. Xuanzang, another great Buddhist monk who saw the stupa in the seventh century described it: “... throughout the building ornamental wood was used; stairs lead to the top... there was an iron-pillar, 3-feet high with 13 gilded circlets; altogether the height from the ground was 700 feet”. Like Asoka, Kanishka convened a Buddhist council. Over the centuries, many different strands of Buddhism had evolved. The majority of Buddhists in Gandhara were Mahayana Buddhists. However, only the orthodox Theravada Buddhists were invited to the council which was the fourth in the history of the faith. The other Buddhist sects called the Theravada Buddhists the followers of the Hinayana or Lesser Vehicle (for salvation). They called their own teachings, the Mahayana or Greater Vehicle (for salvation). Both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism were exported but it was the Mahayana strand that prevailed in East Asia. Being less rigid in its doctrine it was able to assimilate Chinese sensibilities into its practices.

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For several centuries before the Kushans, from the Mauryan times, traders on the overland route made the Indians aware of the existence of China and Chinese silk. In the second century BCE, a sea route between China and the Coromandel coast was established by traders. The journey each way with four stops took a year. In 120 BCE, a victorious Chinese general in the wars against the Xiongnu brought back an Indian metal statue of Buddha that the Han Emperor worshipped. In 50 BCE, Indian monks established a Buddhist temple in Khotan. In 64 CE, the Emperor Ming had a dream in which he saw a tall golden man with a glowing head flying through the air. His advisors told him: “In the West there is a god called Buddha. His body is more than three metres and is the colour of true gold.” The Emperor’s younger brother then confessed that he had secretly become a Buddhist after attending Buddhist sermons. To understand Buddhism, the Emperor sent his officials to the west to bring back Buddhist teachers. These officials met Kasyapa and Dharmaraksa in the Kushan kingdom and escorted them back to the Chinese capital at Luoyang. The monks brought with them sutras which were carried on a white horse. The Chinese Emperor built the White Horse Monastery just outside Luoyang for the two monks who embarked on the task of explaining Buddhism to the Chinese. The two monks translated the Buddhist texts from Sanskrit to Chinese and wrote the Sutra of Forty-Two Sections, the first Buddhist work in the Chinese language. The route across the Khunjerab Pass facilitated the two-way traffic of traders and monks between India and China. Two important monks who crossed the pass are Kumarajiva and Faxian. Kumarajiva was a Kuchean monk who was captured in Kucha by a Chinese general in 401 CE and “invited” to China. The Chinese Emperor built a

palace for the monk. With a staff of about 800 monks, Kumarajiva translated the Buddhist texts, including the important Mahayana work, The Lotus Sutra, into elegant Chinese. This marked the beginning of the millennium-long practice of state-sponsored Buddhist scholarship in China. Faxian, a Chinese monk, travelled overland to India in 399 CE on a fourteen-year pilgrimage to collect Buddhist texts. When he returned, he assisted Kumarajiva in his massive translation efforts. The Buddhism practised in China, Korea, and Japan today is Mahayana Buddhism. In addition to the teachings found in the Pali canons, Mahayana Buddhists believed in many new sutras which they felt gave a more profound insight into Buddha’s Dharma. They viewed Buddha as an eternal omnipresent compassionate presence. They also prayed to a pantheon of Bodhisattvas, supernatural beings who, because of their altruistic compassion for mankind, postponed their own nirvana in order to help humans. The most popular Bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara or Guanyin. Among the many Mahayana schools of Buddhist thought, Zen Buddhism (also called Chan Buddhism), focused on the meditative aspects of the religion, while the Pure Land School of Buddhism focused on the devotional aspects of the religion offering salvation to devotees through the grace of Buddha Amitabha (the future Buddha). After Kanishka, there were several strong kings who maintained control over their domains. But by the fourth century, the Kushans were in decline and lost most of their Indian territory. In the fifth century the ferocious Huns destroyed the Kushan kingdom. Despite the fall of the Kushans, Buddhist monks and traders travelled between India and China for several more hundred years until the Muslim invasions into Central Asia and the collapse of the Tang dynasty cut the link. While Buddhism firmly entrenched itself in East Asia, the onslaught of Islam almost erased Buddhism in Gandhara.

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In the twentieth century, some signs of the ancient glory of the Kushans were rediscovered. The Tower of Buddha’s Bowl in Peshawar had long been destroyed but in 1909, British archeologists discovered its base, and in a hidden chamber found a casket with a dedication to Kanishka inscribed on it. The Kanishka Casket was made of gilded copper and dated back to 127 CE. The three bone fragments found in the casket are believed to be Buddha’s relics. The lid of the casket shows the Buddha on a lotus pedestal between two deities. One hundred miles south of the Khunjerab is the town of Gilgit. In 1931, a box of ancient Buddhist manuscripts was unearthed. The freezing temperatures in this region preserved the Gilgit manuscripts, which were written in the second century BCE. They are the oldest original Buddhist texts in the world. Written in Pali, the manuscript consists of four sutras including the important Lotus Sutra. They are so precious that during the first Indo-Pakistan war of 1948, Nehru had the manuscripts airlifted to New Delhi for safekeeping where they have remained ever since. Just outside Gilgit, on the ancient road to the Khunjerab, on a rock face thirty feet above the ground, there is a carving of Buddha. Travellers passing by the rock and looking up would see the Standing Buddha in a pose that inspired calmness and courage as they entered the Valley of Blood. It is a reminder of the faith of the many monks who made the perilous journey to spread the teachings of Buddha.

The Kanishka Casket

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Chapter 9

The Nine Gems

Gold coin showing Chandragupta II on a horse

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•Ajanta Caves . Elephanta Caves

Ellora Caves Madras•

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400 CE Ajanta

Chandragupta II’s peaceful rule ushers a golden age of culture which inspires the paintings at Ajanta Ajanta Cave Entrance

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Faxian, the Chinese monk, travelled across North India during the reign of Chandragupta II. In his Record of the Buddhistic Kingdoms, he states: “The people are numerous and happy; they do not have to register their households or attend to magistrates and their rules; the king governs without corporal punishment.”

Chandragupta I’s father

He found the inhabitants of the cities and towns to be rich and prosperous. The merchants established homes for dispensing charity and medicines. The poor, the destitute, the orphans, and the crippled went to these homes where they were cared for. The only exception to the general state of well-being among the populace was the condition of the Chandalas (untouchables) who had to live apart. The history of north India in the first millennium is sketchy because the foreign invaders of the second millennium actively sought to eradicate evidence of the Indian civilization that preceded their rule. Hence, historians have often depended on the Chinese records of the Indian travels of monks like Faxian to piece together this period of Indian history. When Kushan power receded in north India during the third century, small kingdoms rose in the Gangetic plain, each ruled by a Raja. The Guptas who were of Vaishya (merchant) origin became the Rajas of Pataliputra in the state of Magadha. Their path to greatness began with an assassination and a marriage. Chandragupta II’s grandfather was raised by the king of Pataliputra. His grandfather assassinated the old king, exiled the king’s son, married a Lichchhavi princess and took the auspicious name of Chandragupta, the namesake of the founder of the Mauryan Empire – Chandragupta Maurya. The Lichchhavis were an ancient family whose lineage could be traced to the time when Buddha wandered about Northern India teaching his doctrine of the Middle Path. This matrimonial alliance gave Chandragupta I the

Chandragupta I (and wife)


Chandragupta II

Kumaragupta I

C h a p t e r 9 T h e N in e G e ms

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prestige and support to extend his power over a large part of north India. In 320 CE, he felt sufficiently important to mark his coronation as the start of a new era, that of the Guptas. Recognizing his dependence on his wife’s family, he minted the royal coins in both their names. Chandragupta I died in 330 CE and was succeeded by Samudragupta, the father of Chandragupta II. We know of Samudragupta’s conquests from a eulogy written in his honour on an Asokan Pillar now located in Allahabad. Samudragupta began his reign by conquering the remaining independent states of the Gangetic plain and incorporating them into his kingdom. He then attacked the kingdoms of the Deccan and advanced as far south as Kanchi near Madras. He did not attempt to retain these Deccan territories and was satisfied with the booty looted and the tributes paid by the vanquished princes. He maintained friendly relations with the Kushan princes who ruled beyond the Indus basin, the Saka Satraps of western India and the Singhalese rulers of Ceylon. He even allowed the king of Ceylon to construct a monastery at Bodhgaya for use by pilgrims from the island. When Samudragupta died after ruling for nearly half a century, he was briefly succeeded by Ramagupta, Chandragupta II’s elder brother. Ramagupta proved unfit to be a ruler. Soon after beginning his reign, he was defeated by the Sakas of West India and agreed to surrender his beautiful queen to the Saka ruler. According to legend, Chandragupta II disguised himself as the queen to gain access to the Saka king and managed to kill him! This heroic act endeared him to the people of his kingdom, allowing him to depose his brother and marry his brother’s wife. He ruled for forty years from 375 CE to 415 CE. The Vatakata king married Chandragupta II’s daughter. This strategic alliance yielded unexpected benefits when the Vatakata king died. Chandragupta II, as regent to his grandsons, gained control of Vatakata. The Ellora and Ajanta caves are located in Vatakata. He extended

the Gupta Empire to Gujarat and the Arabian Sea. With secure control of North India from coast to coast, trade flourished. Around 400 CE, Chandragupta II made Ujjain, an ancient city more strategically placed on the trade route, as his second capital and took on the additional name of Vikramaditya - after a legendary righteous king. He ushered in a golden age of culture by promoting the arts and sciences at his court. His son, Kumaragupta succeeded him to the throne and ruled for forty years from 415 CE to 454 CE. He was succeeded in turn by his son Skandagupta who ruled for thirteen years. During the reign of Kumaragupta and Skandagupta, the Huns from Central Asia, or Hunas as they were called in India, threatened the Empire. The Huns attacked and occupied Afghanistan and Persia in 440 CE but the Guptas managed to stop them from entering India. Unable to advance into India, they directed their efforts westwards against the decaying Roman Empire. Under their leader, Attila, they ravaged Europe, their savage destruction depopulating large parts of Germany, Hungary, and Italy. They defeated the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire in 446 CE and imposed a heavy ransom on its emperor. In 452 CE, they entered Italy and threatened Rome. Pope Leo personally negotiated with Attila the ransom that Rome needed to pay in order to save itself from rape and pillage. The price included sending the Western Roman Emperor’s sister, Honoria as a bride to Attila. While waiting for Honoria, Attila comforted himself by bedding a new bride whom he had added to his harem. In the morning, the weeping bride was found next to Attila who apparently had died from a nosebleed. Internal divisions that followed Attila’s demise weakened the Huns and gave Rome a respite. The Huns tried to invade India again but Skandagupta defeated them in 460 CE. After Skandagupta’s death in 467 CE, the Gupta Empire went into decline and the Huns

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Cave 10, Ellora

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swept into the Punjab and ruled with ferocious cruelty for about seventy years before their power in northwest India was broken by a coalition of Indian princes. Although the Gupta emperors were Hindu, there was peaceful coexistence between Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Artistic guilds produced both Buddhist and Hindu figures. During the Kushan period, Mathura was the major centre of religious art production for export to the rest of India and beyond. The Mathura sculpture was noted for the fluidity of its figures which gave them the impression of movement. To Mathura’s northwest, at Peshawar and Taxila, the fluid Indian sculptural figures became more formalized as a result of Hellenistic influences producing the so-called Gandhara art. The Gupta period marked the high point of

sculptural art with figures displaying an aesthetic sense and discipline. A special feature of Gupta sculpture was the delicate garments with their folds adorning the figures giving the sculpture a wet look. Trade flourished with caravan trails moving from coast to coast. Along the route from Ujjain to the Arabian Sea, at the north-western margin of the Deccan, rock cut temples were built to serve travellers and pilgrims. Because of their more remote location, they escaped destruction during the period when India was under Muslim rule. The most famous of the surviving Gupta cave temples are located at Ellora and Ajanta. Ironically, just kilometres away from Ellora, is the tomb of the Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb, a notorious destroyer of temples.

Ajanta Cave 19

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The thirty-five caves at Ellora are a mix of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain temples demonstrating the religious tolerance of the Gupta period. The Buddhist caves were the earliest structures and consisted of large multi-storey buildings carved into the rock. The most famous Buddhist cave temple, Cave 10, is also known as the “Carpenter’s Cave” because of the carvings on the stone ceiling which give the impression that the roof was made of wooden beams. The Jain temples were in general smaller but the art work was detailed as seen in the lotus flower carvings on the roof of cave 32. About a 100 kilometres north of Ellora, through the wild solitude of the Deccan foothills, the Waghora river flows through a horseshoe gorge near the village of Ajanta. In 1819, a party of British soldiers chanced upon the site of the cave temples filled with exquisite paintings. The thirty-one caves at Ajanta were excavated in two phases. The earlier phase was carried out in the second century BCE by Buddhist monks, before the advent of Mahayana Buddhism, and has sometimes been called Hinayana, although strictly speaking, Buddhism had not split into the two sects yet. The later phase was excavated in the fifth and sixth century CE by Mahayana Buddhists. The Buddhist monk Xuanzang described the caves: “There was a mountain range, ridges one above another in succession, tiers of peaks and sheer summits. Here was a monastery with its lofty halls and deep chambers quarried into the cliff”. The cave temples were abandoned when Buddhism went into decline and remained lost until they were discovered by the British. Perhaps this was fortuitous as it saved the paintings from vandalism and wilful destruction. The mural paintings in the Ajanta Caves contain representations of scenes from Buddha’s life from his conception to his enlightenment. Some of them are devoted to illustrations of Jataka stories. The Ajanta paintings,

Sitting Buddha (Mathura Buddha)

both in composition and technique, are characterized by a delicacy and depth of feelings. The artists excelled in depicting human and animal figures as well as in exhibiting decorative genius. They adorned the ceilings, pedestals of columns, and the frames of doors and windows with patterns and motifs of kaleidoscopic variety. During the fifth century CE, wall painting had developed into a sophisticated art form and an extensive treatise on painting The Chitrasutra was written to guide artists and painters. The Chitrasutra provided details of methods used to render different kinds of people, animals and landscapes, three different types of shading, instructions on techniques of using colour, and the preparation of pigments. The artists of Ajanta employed a palette of five colours: white derived from lime, kaolin, and gypsum; red from ochre found in the nearby hills; black from soot; green from glauconite, a locally found mineral; and blue from lapis lazuli. These basic colours were blended to produce an infinite variety of nuances and shades to give life to

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the painted figures. No painter worked by himself in any one cave; many artists worked together or at different stages as seen in the different styles within each cave. The techniques used in the paintings at Ajanta were the most sophisticated and advanced in the world of that time. Today, these paintings are the most magnificent artworks to survive from that era, and provide justification for calling the Gupta period, “The Golden Age of India”. The resurgence of Hinduism under the Guptas led to an increase in the use of Sanskrit, the language of Hindu liturgy. Chandragupta II promoted Sanskrit literature by inviting the foremost learned men of his time to his capital in Ujjain and the nine most respected were called the “Navaratnas” or “Jewels of Knowledge”. Among the Navaratnas were Dhanvantari, a physician who discovered the antiseptic properties of turmeric, and the mathematician Vahara who deduced the trignometric principle that the sum of the square of sin x and the square of cos x was one. The Jain poet who wrote Bhaktamar Strota and the grammarian Amarasinha who compiled a Sanskrit thesaurus were also members of the August Nine. The most famous of the Navaratnas was the poet and dramatist Kalidasa. Little is known about Kalidasa’s life. According to legend, the handsome poet married a princess. He was a devoted worshipper of the goddess Kali which is not suprising, as his name literally means Kali’s servant. Legend also has it that he was murdered by a courtesan in Sri Lanka. Kalidasa’s first surviving play, Malavika and Agnimitra, tells the story of King Agnimitra, a ruler who falls in love with the picture of an exiled servant girl named Malavika and pines for her. Eventually, the king finds the servant girl and marries her. Kalidasa’s second play, generally considered his masterpiece, is the Shakuntala which tells the story of another king, Dushyanta, who falls in love with another girl of lowly

birth, the lovely Shakuntala. The couple are happily married and things seem to be going smoothly until Fate intervenes and separates the lovers. But true love prevails and the play has a happy ending. Shakuntala is remarkable not only for its beautiful love poetry, but also for its abundant humour which marks the play from beginning to end. The last of Kalidasa’s surviving plays, Urvashi Conquered by Valour, is a mystical play. In this play, the king falls in love with a celestial nymph, Urvashi. After a series of mishaps, including Urvashi’s temporary transformation into a vine, the lovers are allowed to remain together on Earth. In addition to his plays, Kalidasa wrote epic poems, some of which have survived. Kalidasa is considered to be one of the greatest Sanskrit poets. His “Exhortation to the Dawn” is an inspiring guide to life: Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn! Look to this Day! For it is Life, the very Life of Life. In its brief course lie all the Verities and Realities of your Existence. The Bliss of Growth, The Glory of Action, The Splendour of Beauty; For Yesterday is but a Dream, And Tomorrow is only a Vision; But Today well lived makes Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness; And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope. Look well therefore to this Day! Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

Opposite page: Ajanta mural painting

C h a p t e r 9 T h e N in e G e ms

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Chapter 10

The Giver of Knowledge


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Chapter 12

The Reformation

Adi Shankara

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Chapter 17

The Shadow of Allah


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Chapter 18

Thousand Dinar Kafur

Ala-ud-din Khalji

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Chapter 19

Delhi Woes

Pavillion constructed in honour of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq collapsing after being struck by elephants (The assassination of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq by his son and successor Muhammad ibn Tughluq)

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• s~m~rkand

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Chapter 20

The Bulwark


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Krishna River


Raichur Doab Tungabhadra River

Kaveri River


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ANDHRA Pradesh

TamiL Nadu

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1346 Sringeri Math along the Tunga River

Harihara becomes the leader of Hindu India

River in South India

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The Tunga River is born in the Western Ghats and joins the Bhadra to become the Tungabhadra River, the most important tributary of the River Krishna. Dividing the Deccan, the Krishna River flows through northern Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, before entering the Bay of Bengal. The delta of the river is one the most fertile regions in India and is the heartland of the Telugu speaking people. Between the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers lies the Raichur Doab, a fertile agricultural area. The Tunga River is famous for the sweetness of its water. There is a Hindu saying that a devotee should drink the water of the river Tunga and take a bath in the river Ganga. According to legend, while at Sringeri the sage Adi Sankara saw a cobra with its raised hood providing shelter to a frog, its natural enemy. Impressed that natural enemies could coexist and cooperate, he stayed at Sringeri for twelve years and founded his first monastery or Math here. In the fourteenth century, Harihara founded the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar south of the Tungabhadra while north of the Krishna River, Central Asian mercenaries founded the Muslim kingdom of Bahman. In 1346, Harihara was anointed the leader of Hindu India at Sringeri Math. With the support of the Shaivites, he was able to build a Hindu military state that could withstand the savage onslaught of the Muslim armies. For about two hundred years, the two kingdoms were engaged in a bitter struggle as the Bahmani armies tried to destroy Vijayanagar. Firishta gives an account of the millions of Indians who lived between the two rivers, in the Raichur

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Doab, who were indiscriminately massacred during this struggle. Despite the human cost, Vijayanagar prevailed and survived into the sixteenth century and was the bulwark that preserved indigenous Indian culture in the south from annihilation. The Deccan was first invaded by the Muslim armies at the end of the thirteenth century, when in 1296, Ala-ud-din Khalji attacked and captured Devagiri, the capital of the Yadava kingdom. A few years later, Ala-ud-din sent Mohammad Tughluq to capture Warangal but the expedition was a failure when the Telugu armies defeated the Muslims. Ala-ud-din Khalji then sent his slave general Malik Kafur on plundering expeditions that reached as far south as Madurai. Temples were desecrated, infidels were slaughtered, and much plunder and slaves were brought back to Delhi.

The Sringeri Math along the Tunga river

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Hoysala Nataraja

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In 1321, Mohammad Tughluk captured Warangal. The city was plundered and destroyed and much of the countryside was subjugated. The Sangama brothers, Harihara and Bukka, who were treasury superintendents of the Warangal kingdom escaped capture. The Muslim armies continued to proceed southwards and attacked the Pandya kingdom, which they called Ma’bar and took the Pandyan king prisoner. Ma’bar was placed under Muslim rule.

destruction of their culture and enslavement of the population. Prominent in this movement were the many Nayakas.

The Hindu kingdoms of Hoysala under Ballala III and Kampili under Kampiladeva Nayaka remained independent. The kingdom of Kampili on the Raichur Doab between the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers was protected by the strong forts of Kunmata and Anegondi. The Muslim armies repeatedly attacked Kampili and captured Kunmata on their third attempt. Kampiladeva was forced to retreat to Anegondi.

The retreat of Tughluq’s army created a power vacuum. In Delhi, the Sangama brothers Harihara and Bukka, the former officials of Kampili and Warangal, were forced to convert to Islam. In 1332, the Sultan sent them to Kampili as his agents to restore Muslim rule. They regained the fortress of Anegondi and gained control of the Raichur Doab.

In 1327, the Muslim armies besieged Anegondi. After a month, the food supplies in Anegondi were depleted. Kampiladeva met his end with courage and determination. After advising the women to burn themselves to escape slavery, the king and his followers sallied out to wreak as much havoc on the enemy as possible. Kampiladeva met his end, and his stuffed head was sent to Delhi. Among those captured alive were the Sangama brothers who had entered the service of the Kampili king. The brothers went to Delhi in chains. Mohammad Tugluq, now the Sultan, made Devagiri, renamed Daulatabad, the capital of the Sultanate. In 1329, Sultan Mohammad Tughluq and his army left the Deccan and shifted the capital back to Delhi. Almost immediately, the movement to liberate the Deccan began. The local population had never accepted Muslim rule. The strong revival of Shaivism initiated by Shankara, infused a fighting spirit in the people who were not willing to passively endure the desecration of their temples,

With Sultan Tughluq’s retreat, Ballala III, the Hindu Hoysala ruler attacked the Muslim armies. The Muslim governor of the south reported to Sultan Mohammad Tughluq that “the land has risen against him; everyone was lord of what he pleased, and no one was on his side”.

In 1333, Mohammad Tughluq marched his army to Warangal with the intention of bringing it back under his rule, but his army was decimated by an epidemic and the Sultan himself caught the infection. The destruction of the army and the false rumours about the Sultan’s death demolished the prestige of the Delhi Sultanate and encouraged the Hindu uprising. The Sangama brothers, aware of the anti-Muslim sentiment of their subjects, reconverted to Hinduism after meeting the Hindu sage, Vidyaranya. Vidyaranya performed the rituals necessary for the conversion and served as their mentor. Harihara decided to build a new capital on the south bank of the Tungabhadra River which could be more easily defended than Anegondi. The traditional date for the foundation of the city, Vijayanagar is 1336. Here in the name of the local deity, Virupaksha, Harihara was crowned and undertook to rule all the land south of the Krishna River on behalf of the deity. Ballala III, the Hoysala king was busy trying to end Muslim rule in Ma’bar. In 1341, he defeated the Ma’bar forces in open battle and laid siege to the remnants of the defeated

C h a p t e r 2 0 T h e B u lw a r k

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army which had retreated to Kannanur fortress. After five months, the besieged soldiers opened negotiations with Ballala III. He allowed the soldiers to get in touch with their sultan in Madurai to settle the terms of the surrender. The Sultan immediately launched a sudden attack on Ballala III and caught him unprepared. Ballala III was made prisoner. Initially, Ballala III was treated well in captivity in order to extract a rich ransom from his relatives. Once the ransom was paid, Ballala III was flayed alive and his “skin was stuffed with straw and hung upon the wall of Madurai”. Ibn Battutah, the famed traveller, who visited Madurai a year later, in 1342, saw the body still hanging in the same location. With Ballala III’s death, Harihara became the most powerful Hindu king in the south. In ten years, the Vijayanagara kingdom stretched from the Malabar to the Coromandel coast. In 1346, the Sangama brothers travelled to Sringeri where the Hindu religious leaders of the Shankara Math joined Hindu princes and leaders in celebrating a great festival honouring Vijayanagar. Harihara was now the leader of Hindu India. In 1347, Vijayanagara’s greatest enemy, the Bahmani kingdom, was founded by Muslim mercenaries. With the Hindu uprising in the Deccan, the Muslim chiefs in Daulatabad had difficulty in extracting high taxes and remitting the money to Delhi. A hundred amirs or “centurions” had this onerous duty. The centurions were arrested and forced to march to Delhi. A week into their journey, they learnt that the centurions from the province of Mewar were executed in Delhi. Refusing to be similarly slaughtered, they revolted. Under the leadership of Hasan Gangu, they defeated the forces of the Delhi Sultanate and set up the Bahmani kingdom. Hasan Gangu declared himself an independent Sultan and took the name of Alaud-din Bahman. He chose the name Bahman after the mythical Persian hero. The capital of the Bahmani kingdom was located at Gilburga.


For about 200 years, the Vijayanagar kingdom and the Bahmani Sultanate fought each other in a struggle for supremacy in the Deccan. In 1365, the first Bahmani war was launched by Mohammad, the son of Ala-uddin Bahman who declared a jihad against Vijayanagar, which was now ruled by Bukka. When the Bahmani army crossed the Krishna River and attacked Bukka’s forces, Bukka decided to withdraw his forces to the south of the Tungabhadra. According to Firishta, Mohammad captured 2,000 elephants and thirty gun carriages. He then ordered a massacre of 70,000 Hindus in the Raichur Doab. After the rainy season, the Bahmani army crossed the Tungabhadra, and the two armies engaged each other. Both armies bombarded each other with artillery guns, but the Muslim cavalry proved superior forcing the Hindu army to withdraw. The First Bahmani war was the first occasion when artillery was used in war in the Indian Subcontinent. Both sides imported their guns from Europe and employed European and Turkish gunners. The guns did not have carriages and were carried on pack animals. They were lashed down when the guns needed to be used. When the Vijayanagar army withdrew, Mohammad ordered another general massacre of Hindus. After several years of war, a treaty was signed. This gave Vijayanagara control of the Raichur Doab. Although Firishta declared the Muslim armies as victors, the treaty giving Vijayanagara control of the Raichur Doab suggests that the Muslim armies were eventually defeated. After Mohammad’s death, there were several weak Bahmani Sultans until Firuz ascended the throne in 1397. He sent his armies across the Krishna River and defeated the Vijayanagara forces. He conquered the Raichur Doab and secured a Vijayanagar princess for his harem. Firuz kept in his harem an enormous number of women from many countries including Europe. He built a large mosque in Gulbarga based on the design

of the Cordova mosque in Spain. It was at that time the largest completely roofed mosque in India. Firuz went on one expedition too many and was eventually defeated by Devaraya I, the ruler of Vijayanagar. Firuz was succeeded by Ahmad Shah in 1422 and he attacked Vijayanagar with greater savagery than any of his predecessors. Wherever he went, he put to death Hindu men, women and children. Whenever the number of slain amounted to twenty thousand, he halted for three days and made a festival to celebrate the occasion. Ahmad Shah was eventually defeated by Devaraya II and the Raichur Doab continued to remain under Vijayanagar control. The Sangama brothers, who spent time captive in Delhi, understood the strengths of the Muslim military system and the weakness of the Hindu kingdoms. When Vijayanagara was founded, the brothers organized the kingdom as a military state. Just as the Muslim kingdoms used Islam to motivate its warriors, they used Hinduism to motivate their subjects. Initially, the Vijayanagar troops could not prevail over the smaller Bahmani army because the Muslim cavalry was superior. By borrowing the technology used by the Muslims, Vijayanagar improved their military capability. The innovations borrowed from the Muslim armies included the foot stirrup, better harnesses, high saddles with pommels and the nailed horseshoe. In 1374, Bukka was able to conquer Ma’bar and end the inhumanly oppressive rule of its Sultan. This removed a danger from the south, leaving only the Bahmani kingdom in the north as Vijayanagar’s greatest threat. Devaraya I (1406-1422) devoted large resources to building the cavalry. He imported horses from Arabia and Persia and employed Turkish archers to train his troops. Devaraya II (14221446) went one step further and recruited foreign Muslims into his army. This was a strategic error that would eventually cause the downfall of the Vijayanagar kingdom.

The ruins of Vijayanagara Empire

The Bahmani sultans who followed Ahmad Shah continued their savage attacks against Vijayanagar but the Sultanate was already in decline because of internal conflicts. There were two factions lobbying for power in the Bahmani court: the local Muslim Deccanis and the Central Asian settlers. The divide was both racial and religious as the Deccanis were Shias while the Central Asians were Sunnis. Both factions were set on exterminating the other. Between 1347 and 1518, the Bahmani throne was occupied by fourteen sultans of whom four were murdered and two were deposed and blinded.

C H A P T E R 2 0 T H E B U LW A R K


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The people under the rule of the Bahmani sultans suffered greatly. The Russian merchant Nikitin, who travelled through the Bahmani Sultanate made the following observation: “The land is overstocked with people. But those in the country are very miserable, whilst the nobles are extremely opulent and delight in luxury. They are carried in their silver beds, preceded by some twenty chargers caparisoned in gold, and followed by 300 men on horseback, and by 500 on foot.”

killing each other. On 13 September 1948, Indian troops entered Hyderabad and in less than four days established full control over the state. Foreign Muslim rule in the Deccan finally came to an end, 652 years after Ala-ud-din Khalji’s first foray.

Despite many attempts, the Bahmani Sultanate failed in its bid to destroy the Vijayanagar Kingdom. The Bahmani dynasty ended in 1518 but foreign Muslim rule over this part of the Deccan continued into the twentieth Century. Nikitin’s description of the Bahmani kingdom could very well apply to the Deccan of 1948 when the Nizam of Hyderabad ruled this area. The Urdu speaking Nizam believed himself to be of Arab descent and related to the Prophet Mohammad. Time magazine in 1937 named the Nizam as the richest man in the world and described his wealth gathering strategies. He was absolute ruler over his impoverished Telugu, Kannada and Maratha speaking subjects who were allowed to have an audience only when a tax equal to their worth was paid. He owned ten percent of the land while the rest was mainly in the hands of the small Muslim aristocracy. As India’s independence drew near, he hoped to continue his absolute rule. The Nizam enjoyed the support of the Tory party in Britain and of Jinnah who threatened Nehru that “every Muslim throughout the whole of India, all the one hundred million Muslims, would rise as one man to defend the oldest Muslim dynasty in India”. The Nizam set up the paramilitary body called the Razakars to terrorize his subjects into submission. In the countryside, the communists organized an uprising against the Nizam and his Razakars. The up-rising quickly turned into a communal bloodbath with Hindus and Muslims

Opposite page: Charminar is the most famous monument in the city of Hyderabad

C h a p t e r 2 0 T h e B u lw a r k

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Chapter 21

For Christians and Spices

Vasco da Gama

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EUROPE J AI'AN \7or.-.




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Chapter 22

Matchlocks and Cannons

Rana Sanga

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Chapter 27 The Book

Guru Arjan Dev

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111.11: I

Amritsar Agra





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1604 Amritsar

Guru Arjan Dev installs the Sikh Holy Book in the Golden Temple

Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) Amritsar, Punjab

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Amritsar lies in Indian Punjab close to the Indo-Pakistani border. In Punjabi, the name means The Pool of the Nectar of Immortality. For over a hundred years, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a new religion in Punjab based on the teachings of a succession of Gurus blossomed in peace. This would soon change and their Gurus would frequently become martyrs beginning with Guru Arjan Dev. In 1604, Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, completed his compilation of Sikh teachings into a book - the Adi Granth and installed it at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The installation of the Adi Granth in the Golden Temple at the start of the seventeenth century would give the Sikhs a focal point to rally and sustain their faith through the violence and turbulence that would repeatedly be directed against them over the next four hundred years. Timur’s invasion of North India in 1399 left death, pestilence and famine in its wake. Both the Muslims and Hindus living in his path suffered terribly and this common suffering engendered an atmosphere of tolerance between the Muslims and Hindus of India as they picked up the pieces and rebuilt their lives and societies. Neither belief in Mohammad nor belief in Ram saved Indians from the calamity of Timur. This gave rise to an intense examination of their respective religions by both Hindus and Muslims in the fifteenth century, a period of relative peace, the interlude between the invasions of Timur and that of his descendant, Babur. As institutional religion became discredited, individual devotional worship through Bahkti prayers gained traction among Hindus who rejected the misery caused by the Brahmanical promotion of caste. Among Muslims, many turned to the tolerant compassionate form of Islam as taught by the Sufi masters and rejected the Sunni teachings as promoted by the Brahmins of Islam, the self-serving Sayyids and Sheiks of the ulema.

A number of religious teachers or Sants emerged in North India who preached the idea that faith was a matter of surrendering to a universal God who dwells in the heart of every human. Their teachings were devoid of the concepts of caste and liturgy and were popular with the marginalized sections of the population. Kabir, an orphan raised by Muslim weavers, was one of the most popular of the Sants. Kabir criticized both the Hindu practice of worshipping images and the Muslim practice of fasting. He believed in an egalitarian approach to God and spirituality, one that both Hindu and Muslim Indians could follow. Through his poetry, composed in the vernacular Hindi and accessible to the multitude, he popularized his ideas. Kabir did not classify himself as a Hindu or Muslim. He considered himself the child of Allah and Ram and insisted that whether one chanted the name of Ram or Allah, one was still calling out to God, the creator of the world. The Sikh religion has its origins in the teachings of the first Guru, Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 during this period of intense re-examination of the role of religion. Nanak was born into a kshatriya family who kept revenue records for a prosperous Rajput landlord who had converted to Islam. Nanak followed his family tradition and went to work as a revenue official. He was married and had two children. Nanak was deeply philosophical and spent much of his time contemplating on the nature of God. He came to the conclusion: “There is but one God; He is all that is; He is the Creator of all things and he is all-pervasive; He is without fear and without enmity; He is timeless, unborn and self-existent; He was in the beginning; He was in all ages; The True One is, was and shall forever be.”

Chapter 27 The Book

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Guru Nanak

... •



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In 1496, Nanak travelled in quest of knowledge to Benares, Orissa, Assam, Southern India and Ceylon. He then made a second journey to Tibet, Kabul, Baghdad, and Mecca. After twenty-eight years of wandering, he settled near Lahore and taught his insights into God for the remaining fifteen years of his life. Most of his converts came from the Hindu farming population of the Punjab. The word Sikh, derived from the Sanskrit term shishya, meaning a devoted follower, came to be applied to his disciples. Nanak composed 974 hymns in a form of Punjabi that is now called Gurmukhi, meaning from the mouth of the Guru. For Guru Nanak, “there was no Hindu; there was no Muslim”. He criticized the Brahmin view of caste-related pollution, saying “pollution only pollutes the ignorant”. He was also sceptical about Muslim rituals and asked Muslims to “let compassion be their mosque, faith be their prayer mat and honest living be their Koran”. Guru Nanak believed in the equality of women and taught his followers: “... of women are we born, of women conceived, to women engaged, to women married; women we befriend, by women is the civilization continued; from women is women born, and without women none would exist”. Before his death in 1539, Guru Nanak had selected his successor from among his disciples. The second Guru continued Nanak’s teachings and he too selected one of his disciples to succeed him. The third Guru organized the Sikh assemblies that had formed all over Punjab into districts and institutionalized the communal kitchen where all Sikhs could eat together without distinction of rank. He continued to emphasize the Sikh opposition to caste prejudices generated by the brahmins and taught that “no man should be proud because of his caste for the man who has God in his heart is the true brahmin”.

The third Guru stopped women from wearing veils and allowed them to remarry. They were allowed to head the Sikh assemblies. The developing Sikh philosophy and way of life caught the attention of their religiously tolerant Emperor Akbar. In 1567, Emperor Akbar visited the third Guru and ate with him at the communal kitchen. The third Guru built a simple mud hut beside a pool of clear water for meditation and prayer. This would become the site of the future Golden Temple, the Harmandir. The son-in-law of the third Guru became the fourth Guru and began the construction of the Harmandir. The fourth Guru’s third son, Arjan Dev, who succeeded him as the fifth Guru, completed the construction. The Harmandir was built in the centre of a pool of water with four doors opening in different directions to symbolize the faith’s welcome of members from all castes and creeds. The construction was completed in 1601. The city of Amritsar grew around the temple. Guru Arjan Dev compiled an anthology of Sikh insights. It included the writings of the first four Gurus as well as the sayings of saintly teachers like Kabir. His anthology had more than 7,000 hymns, of which 2,218 were his own compositions. He then set the hymns to ragas so that the hymns could be sung lyrically. This anthology is known as the Adi Granth or “original edition”. On 16th August, 1604, the Adi Granth was installed in the Harmandir. From that date till now, the Granth was brought to the sanctum sanctorum of the Harmandir before daybreak. Passages from the book were read throughout the day, interspersed with singing of excerpts. After sunset, the book was removed for safekeeping. This established the Harmandir as the holiest site in Sikhism and a source for spiritual inspiration for Sikhs. Within two years of the installation of the book, conflicts within Akbar’s family over succession would impact the Sikh faith. Akbar had built a powerful centrally controlled empire.

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In the final years of his long reign, as age took its toll, concerns over succession erupted into open rebellion. Salim, the oldest son, was the leading candidate but his impatience would lead to tragedy. Badouni records that in 1591, Emperor Akbar had fears that Salim would try to poison him. Salim’s two younger brothers were often inebriated by alcohol and were weak contenders for the throne. When one of his younger brothers died in 1599, Salim was in the Deccan far from his father’s influence. He was convinced by his friends that the Mughal court was weak and that he could seize power. With the help of Mahabat Khan and other friends, he put together an army and marched on Agra to attempt to capture the Mughal treasury. When this failed, he moved to Allahabad and declared his independence, styling himself as Sultan Salim. Akbar recalled his trusted advisor and biographer Abul Fazl to advise him. Fearing that Abul Fazl would counsel the Emperor against him, Salim paid a Bundela chief to murder Abul Fazl as he was travelling to Agra. The Bundela chief sent the victim’s head to Salim. Akbar was deeply distressed by the heinous murder of his friend and counsellor by his rebellious son. Despite Salim’s treachery, Akbar wanted peace with his son. He sent his wife to recover the prodigal son. Peace was made between father and son in 1603. The reconciliation lasted for only a few months before Salim returned to Allahabad. Salim’s unpredictable temper, his bouts of violent behaviour and religious intolerance alienated many nobles. They looked for an alternative contender and settled on Khusrau, Salim’s eldest son. Khusrau, who was seventeen, had already distinguished himself in battle. His courtly manners and pleasant demeanour were a marked contrast with Salim and made him popular in the court. The Khusrau faction had powerful supporters including Khusrau’s maternal uncle, Akbar’s trusted Rajput general, Raja Man Singh, who had been appointed governor of Bengal.

Afraid of the growing strength of the Khusrau faction, Salim decided to return to Agra and leave his fate in Akbar’s hands. Akbar received Salim with honours publicly but privately raged at him. Salim was confined for ten days under the care of watchful physicians to allow him to recover from the effects of opium and alcohol. During Salim’s last visit to Akbar, Akbar invested Salim with the sword of Humayan officially designating him as the heir. Emperor Akbar died in October 1605 and Salim succeeded him, adopting the name of Jahangir which means World Conqueror. Jahangir placed his son Khusrau under house arrest in Agra. In April 1606, Khusrau escaped and gathered an army of 12,000 rebels. He marched towards Lahore. On the way, he visited Amritsar and met Guru Arjan Dev. Like all pilgrims, Khusrau received the blessings of the Guru. The leisurely journey of the rebels to Lahore gave the city time to prepare its defences. The rebel attack on Lahore failed. Jahangir took a large army and went in pursuit of Khusrau. His army defeated the rebels outside Lahore. Jahangir had given orders to his army not to treat his son leniently saying “kingship regards neither son nor son-in-law”. Khusrau was captured and together with two rebel friends brought before Jahangir “weeping and trembling”. Khusrau was ordered into confinement. Jahangir ordered that the two friends “to be put in skins of an ox and an ass, and that they should be mounted on asses with their faces to the tail and taken round the city”. As ox-skin dries faster than an ass-skin, the rebel in ox-skin died. He was beheaded and the head displayed at the gates of Agra. The other rebel in the ass-skin survived his ordeal. Meanwhile, Jahangir hanged the other captured rebels and had their bodies impaled on shafts constructed along the road. A European account of Khusrau’s humiliation records:

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“When all the nobles had been hanged or impaled, the King personally went to see the sight as a pastime, taking his son, Khusrau, mounted on an elephant with him. They rode between the dead nobles, who filled both sides of the road. Mahabat Khan was seated behind the prince in order to introduce each dead head to Khusrau.” For having welcomed Khusrau at Amritsar, Guru Arjan Dev was arrested. Both Muslims and Brahmins were opposed to the Sikh Gurus and wished to eliminate the new faith. They had the ear of Jahangir and urged strong action against the Sikh Guru. Jahangir in his memoirs records: “I ordered them to produce him [Arjan Dev] and having confiscated his property commanded that he be put to death with torture.” The torture was excruciating; Guru Arjan Dev was made to sit on a hot iron plate whilst burning sand was poured over him. He was immersed in scalding water and eventually drowned in the Ravi River. Arjan Dev met his martyrdom with courage telling his followers that he “bore all this torture to set an example to the teachers of the True Name, that they may not lose patience or rail at God”. His parting message to his son and successor, Hargobind was “not to mourn or indulge in unmanly lamentations, but to sing God’s praises, and to sit fully armed on his throne and maintain an army to the best of his abilities”. Guru Arjan Dev’s torture and execution was a turning point in the Silk faith. It forced the peaceful religion to arm itself for protection. Hargobind was only eleven when he became the sixth Guru. He set up military training camps and acquired horses and weapons. Military training and valor in combat in the defence of the belief became an integral part of the Sikh faith. While the Harmandir was supreme in spiritual matters, temporal issues were decided at an adjacent building, the Akal Takht, by representatives of the Sikh community.

Sikh Akalis at Amritsar

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Jahangir was wary of Guru Hargobind’s efforts to militarize the faith and briefly had him jailed at Gwalior before releasing him. The first clash between the Mughals and the Sikhs occurred in 1628 when a small detachment of Sikhs defeated a Mughal force after two days of fighting. It was a small skirmish but was significant in that it showed defiance against the Mughals and the possibility of military success in battle. Guru Hargobind was aware that if he stayed at Amritsar, it would lie in the path of any Mughal aggression directed against him and to avoid damage and harm to the Harmandir, Hargobind left Amritsar and never returned. The Harmandir at Amritsar continues to be the focal point of their faith for Sikhs. In 1983, a militant Sikh preacher named Bhrindranwale took sanctuary in the Golden Temple Complex departing from the established Sikh practice set by Guru Hargobind of not endangering the holy place for political ends. In June 1984, the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi of the Congress Party, sent tanks into Amritsar to flush out Bhrindranwale and his associates. The ensuing battle caused the death of 5,000 civilians, destroyed the Akal Takht, and damaged the Harmandir. The attack upset Sikhs around the world and in India. Five months later, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. About 5,000 Sikhs died in the communal riots that followed the assassination. It would take a generation for the wounds to heal and for a Sikh to emerge as the Prime Minister of a Congress Party led government.

Opposite page: Portrait of Akbar, Mogul Emperor of India and his son Jahangir seated above Akbar’s father Humayan and grandfather Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire.

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Chapter 28

The Light of the World

Nur Jahan

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Red Fort of Agra • . Chttor, Ud.upur.



Daulfthlbad • ' DECCAN


Hill Ahrnadnagnr Bij~pur

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1611 Red Fort, Agra

Nur Jahan becomes Empress of India

Diwan-i-Am, Hall of Public Audience, Red Fort, Agra

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The Emperor Jahangir was a capricious despot, addicted to alcohol and opium, whose ambition for the throne caused him to rebel against his father and imprison and blind his son. He could not trust his other sons or his nobles. The Timurid emperors maintained large harems. Akbar had 5,000 women in his harem with many of his wives taken for political purposes to create alliances. Jahangir considered himself a connoisseur and collected women for their beauty. In Mughal India, women became marriageable and sexually active upon puberty. By the age of thirty, they were considered past their prime. Jahangir realized his own limitations and his need for a trusted consul who would not pose a danger to his power. He turned to the capable thirty-five year old Mihrunnisa to fulfil this role. She was declared Empress in 1611 at the Red Fort in Agra. They had no children together. She proved a capable governing partner, ruling the kingdom and protecting his throne especially during the periods when he was indisposed through addiction or illness. She struck coins and sent royal commands in their joint name, a rare phenomena in the male dominated Islamic political power structure.

lack of restraint. He had a liaison with one of his father’s favourite concubines, Anakali, that led to the execution of the unfortunate beauty. In 1594, the growing interest of Salim in the seventeen-year-old Mihrunnisa, induced Emperor Akbar to betroth her to a successful Persian adventurer, Sher Afghan, who had performed good service during a military campaign. Salim applied to his father to marry Mihrunnisa. Akbar sternly refused and reprimanded him saying: “Are there not enough women that you should wish to marry a retainer who is promised to one of my soldiers?” Mihrunnisa married Sher Afghan and they had a daughter, Ladli Begam. Sher Afghan continued his successful military service on behalf of the Mughal Empire. In 1605, when Salim became Emperor taking the name Jahangir, Sher Afghan was given an appointment in Bengal. According to the Venetian writer, Manucci, in 1607, the Emperor Jahangir encountered Mihrunnisa in Lahore.

Mihrunnisa was the daughter of a well-educated Persian official, who having suffered a reversal of fortunes in his own country, decided to migrate to Mughal India with his family in 1577. They joined a caravan on its way to India but had the misfortune of being robbed along the way. They were in such dire straits that when Mihrunnisa was born, they considered abandoning her. Eventually, through the kindness of the caravan chief, the family including Mihrunnisa reached Agra intact. Educated Persian officials were in demand in Akbar’s court and her father secured an appointment. He must have performed his duties well as he was soon appointed the Imperial treasurer in Kabul.

“When the boat arrived near the royal seat, he saw that in the boat was a beautiful woman. He fell so violently in love with her that he had no sleep nor rest; but the woman replied firmly to all solicitations made to her on behalf of the king, that she was the wife of a soldier of position named Sher Afghan … nor would she hear a word from any other man so long as her husband remained alive. The king sent an order to the governor of Patna that as soon as Sher Afghan should arrive there with a letter he must be slain. This was done, but the valorous soldier, although taken unaware, killed five persons in defending himself. Sher Afghan being dead, Jahangir took the woman into his palace.”

Mihrunnisa would have visited Agra several times and tradition has it that Prince Salim (the future Jahangir) was enchanted by her. He was known for his roving eye and

In the palace of the Mughal Emperors was a closely guarded wing called the harem, derived from an Arabic word meaning prohibited place. The seclusion and veiling

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of women, a practice called Purdah, was not an Indian tradition. Among the working poor, whether Hindu or Muslim, life was a matter of basic survival with both sexes enduring hard labour. Living in such dire conditions, the seclusion of women was impractical. Only the Muslim aristocracy could afford to maintain Purdah, a symbol of their power and wealth. The Rajput nobles, though Hindu, copied the practice of their Muslim masters. Purdah was strictest in the Imperial harem. The harem itself was a large complex establishment with thousands of women. Jahangir kept a thousand beautiful women for his own body, a number far exceeding his needs for

procreation or his sexual appetite. A woman would have to be exceptional to stand out in this crowd. Within the harem, the women had a strict hierarchy and received salaries. They enjoyed many luxuries to compensate for their loss of freedom as the harem was strictly guarded. On an occasion when a noblewoman was suspected of having a liaison with a eunuch, the eunuch was punished by being trampled by elephants, a quick death. The woman was buried in earth up to the armpits and exposed to the elements without sustenance. She took a day and a half to die. When Mihrunnisa entered the harem, she entered a guarded gilded cage.

Agra Fort

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Mihrunnisa’s life in the harem had an inauspicious start. Her father was accused of embezzlement and placed in the custody of the accuser. A plot against Jahangir centred around his eldest son Khusrau was discovered. Four of the ring-leaders, which included Mihrunnisa’s brother, were executed. Khusrau was punished by being blinded and imprisoned. Jahangir was fortunate to inherit a large and well run Empire. He was, however, self indulgent and addicted to opium and alcohol. His reputation for cruelty was widespread in both its magnitude and its randomness. He had servants killed for breaking porcelain and came up with novel and sadistic punishments for those who displeased him. The Englishman, Hawkins, noted that Jahangir was “ill-beloved by the greater part of his subjects, who stand greatly in fear of him”.

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Mihrunnisa must have been a remarkable beauty though Purdah would have ensured that few men other than the Emperor would have actually seen her. Nevertheless, according to contemporary sources: “She was a tall attractive woman of proportionate limbs who even at the age of thirty-five had such charm and grace that the Emperor Jahangir was enamoured of her; in beauty she excelled all the ladies of the East and with an extraordinary education, she had no equal among her sex.” Jahangir’s younger siblings had died from their addiction to alcohol and opium. He himself was often incapacitated. After the discovery of the Khusrau plot, he could not trust any of the nobles at court. He looked to Mihrunnisa for support and advice. Unlike any male noble or relative who might plot against him if given power, any power delegated to her would end the moment he died and so it was in her interest for him to survive as Emperor for as long as possible.

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In 1611, he married her and made her Empress. She was given the name Nur Mahal or “Light of the Palace” which was later elevated to Nur Jahan or “Light of the World”. For the next sixteen years, she was the power that ruled India. Their mutual obsession with each other was romanticised in a Mughal poem: “‘Thy collar, my love has not been dyed with saffron,’ said Jahangir. ‘Engrained therein is the pallor of my face; And it is the ruby-drops of my heart which have lent their hue to those ruby buttons on thy silken coat,’ answered Nur Mahal.” Nur Mahal was later referred to as Nur Jahan. Nur Jahan’s family prospered with her ascendancy. Her father became Prime Minister and was given the name Itimaduddaula. He was well educated, wise and had an open ear to the happenings within the kingdom. As a result of his ready willingness to accept gifts, he amassed a fortune. Nur Jahan’s brother became a high ranking minister in court and was given the name Asaf Khan. Jahangir’s eldest son Khusrau had been blinded. His second son Pervez was considered incompetent. The third son Khurram appeared to be the most competent. The fourth son, Shahryar was just a young boy. Nur Jahan cemented her family alliance with the Emperor by marrying Asaf Khan’s daughter, the future Mumtaz Mahal, to Khurram. Nur Jahan, her father and her brother, and Prince Khurram became the ruling junta who made the decisions in the Emperor’s name while Jahangir continued with his hedonistic lifestyle. Nur Jahan’s rise antagonized many of the nobles, including Mahabat Khan, who previously had been one of Jahangir’s closest confidantes.

Jahangir’s jar of wine and Zeb-un-Nissa


Jahangir had sent an army under the command of Prince Pervez and Mahabat Khan to bring Mewar under Mughal rule. Even Akbar could not make the Maharana of Mewar bow his head in formal submission to Mughal rule. The current Rana ruled Mewar from his new capital at Udaipur. Much to Mahabat Khan’s displeasure, the command was

transferred to Prince Khurram in 1613. The Mughal army now rampaged through Mewar, burning villages and selling captives into slavery. Despite the brutality, the Rana held out though his territory was being starved. Jahangir meanwhile fell ill. Prince Khurram needed to return to be in court to protect his position from Mahabat Khan and Prince Pervez’s influence. He arranged a peace treaty with the Rana. The Rana was not required to submit to the Mughal Emperor but his son would follow Prince Khurram to court. There would be mutual exchange of gifts, the Mughal gifts to the Rana far exceeding in value the gifts of the Rana to Prince Khurram. The kingdom of Mewar agreed not to fortify Chitor. Prince Khurram returned to court in 1615 trumpeting his victory over Mewar and receiving the welcome of a returning conqueror. Jahangir gave Prince Khurram the title Shah Jahan, “Ruler of the World”. In the south, the Deccan kingdoms of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golconda resisted Mughal control. The three Muslim kingdoms were ruled by Sultans of the Shia faith. Jahangir feared an alliance between them and the Shia Persian rulers. In 1616, he appointed Shah Jahan to head the army against the Deccan kingdom of Ahmadnagar, whose regent Malik Ambar had gained a fearsome reputation. Malik Ambar was a Black Ethiopian called Chapu. In the sixteenth century, a trade in Negro slaves flourished between Africa and India. Ethiopia was an ancient Christian kingdom whose emperors considered themselves the descendants of Solomon. International commerce brought Indian cloth to Ethiopia which was paid for with slaves. As a consequence of this flourishing trade, Chapu, who was born in 1548 in the Kaambata region of south Ethiopia was sold to Arab traders. Chapu was sold and resold several times before finally becoming a slave in the service of the Prime Minister of Ahmadnagar. The black slaves in India, known as Habshis, were recruited in large numbers into the armies of the sixteenth century Deccan Sultanates. In 1575, Chapu’s master died and he was freed by his master’s widow.

Chapu acquired a wife and became a freelance soldier of great success under the name of Malik Ambar. Ahmadnagar was ruled by the Nizam Shahi Dynasty. In 1595, Ahmadnagar was under siege by the Mughal forces. Malik Ambar and his troops managed to break through the Mughal lines. Over the next five years, Malik Ambar’s fame and reputation grew as he harassed the Mughal supply lines. In 1600, Ahmadnagar fell to the Mughals and the reigning Sultan was taken into captivity. Malik Ambar found a scion of the Nizam Shahi family, and installed him as the new Sultan of the Ahmadnagar state. Malik Ambar arranged the marriage of his daughter to the Sultan and as Regent, was the true power behind the throne. His son married into the Bijapur Royal family to cement his alliance with the neighbouring Bijapur Kingdom. He continued the war against the Mughals. The three Deccan kingdoms of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golconda were in an alliance against the Mughals. When Jahangir sent a large army with over a thousand elephants against Malik Ambar, Ambar had a forged letter sent to the Mughal generals reporting Jahangir’s death and ordering the immediate return of the army. The generals burnt their tents and supplies. By the time the fraud was exposed, the army had no choice but to retreat as their supplies had been destroyed. Malik Ambar recaptured the city of Ahmadnagar. Shah Jahan began a ruthless campaign and recaptured Ahmadnagar. Once he had impressed Malik Ambar of the strength of the Mughal forces, he offered Malik Ambar a favourable truce in return for Ambar’s acceptance of nominal Mughal sovereignty. Ambar agreed to the terms and moved his capital to Daulatabad in the Maratha heartland. Shah Jahan appointed a commander to manage the fort of Ahmadnagar and took the new commander’s young daughter as his third wife (Mumtaz Mahal, his second wife, was not with him).

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Tomb of Khusrau, the son of Emperor Jahangir

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While Shah Jahan was getting married a third time, Nur Jahan offered Prince Khusrau his immediate freedom if he would marry her daughter, Ladli Begum. Jahangir had fallen ill and Nur Jahan feared that her influence would end should Shah Jahan become the next Emperor. She was looking for a more pliable prince. Khusrau refused to take a second wife professing love for his existing wife who had stood by him through all his travails. Shah Jahan returned to court with his fame enhanced. In 1620, Jahangir’s health was in a poor state. Nur Jahan arranged for frequent trips to Kashmir where the climate appeared to suit Jahangir. A series of events now split the ruling junta as their interests diverged. In 1621, Nur Jahan married her daughter to Prince Shahryar, making him a potential rival to Shah Jahan. In 1622, Nur Jahan’s father, Itimaduddaula, died. Nur Jahan had her father’s entire estate transferred to her possession depriving her brother, Asaf Khan, of any share. Malik Ambar resumed his attacks against the Mughal forces. In 1622, Shah Jahan was asked to go to the Deccan to lead the campaign against Ambar. Shah Jahan insisted that his brother Khusrau should go with him. Both Nur Jahan and Asaf Khan supported the transfer of Khusrau to Shah Jahan knowing that he would probably not return alive. In 1623, Shah Jahan ordered the assassin, Raz Bahadur, to murder Khusrau. Shah Jahan sent a report to court stating that Khusrau had died of natural causes. In 1623, Kandahar fell to the Persians. Shah Jahan was ordered to take his forces north to Kandahar. Learning that he was out of favour and that Nur Jahan was setting up his brother Shahryar to succeed Jahangir, Shah Jahan rebelled. He attacked Agra Fort in order to capture the royal treasury. The fort held and Shah Jahan had to retreat. The imperial forces moved south and attacked Shah Jahan. His troops were routed and Shah Jahan fled. Nur Jahan

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ordered Mahabat Khan and Prince Pervez to pursue Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan eventually fled to Ahmadnagar and found refuge in the lands controlled by his old adversary, Malik Ambar. Together they now fought the Mughal Imperial Army. In 1625, dispirited, Shah Jahan wrote to his father asking for forgiveness and sent his two sons to Nur Jahan as hostages. Nur Jahan now turned her attention to Mahabat Khan who was Prince Pervez’s supporter. Mahabat Khan was ordered to court as charges had been brought against him. The Imperial entourage was on its way north to Kabul. Mahabat Khan took his troops and approached the entourage as it was crossing the Jhelum River. Asaf Khan and Nur Jahan and most of the Imperial Army had crossed the river while Jahangir had not. Mahabat Khan had sent his sonin-law ahead to the court. The son-in-law was immediately arrested and put in chains. Angry, Mahabat Khan reached the Jhelum River to find the Emperor protected by a small force as the main army had crossed the river. He disarmed the guards and took the Emperor under his protection. Nur Jahan bravely rallied the Imperial troops and crossed the river to try and free the Emperor. Her forces were defeated and she surrendered herself to Mahabat Khan. From April to September 1626, Mahabat Khan ruled the Empire in his role as protector of the Emperor. While the royal court was passing by Rohtas on its way to Lahore, Jahangir told Mahabat Khan that Nur Jahan wished him to review her troop of guards. In view of the poor opinion that Mahabat Khan had of Nur Jahan, he suggested that Mahabat Khan proceed ahead of them with Asaf Khan. The guileless Mahabat Khan agreed. Nur Jahan took the opportunity to escape with her husband to Rohtas fort. The commander of the fort was loyal to Nur Jahan and the fortress was impregnable. The Emperor was no longer under the protection of Mahabat Khan and Nur Jahan resumed her control of the empire. Mahabat Khan, who had

Asaf Khan as his hostage, released him when Asaf promised that he would be under obligation to Mahabat Khan if his life was spared. After releasing Asaf Khan, Mahabat Khan fled south and joined Shah Jahan. Nur Jahan sent an army to pursue Mahabat Khan. News now arrived that Prince Pervez had died. In October 1627, Jahangir died. Asaf Khan acted decisively. He arrested Nur Jahan and secured the safety of Shah Jahan’s children. He and the nobles declared Khusrau’s elder son, Dawar Baksh, the Emperor. Meanwhile, he sent word to Shah Jahan and Mahabat Khan to come to the Imperial court as soon as possible. Prince Shahryar had developed a venereal disease that turned his skin white and caused the loss of his hair. He was in Lahore seeking treatment for his affliction. When Nur Jahan’s secret letter informed him of the Emperor’s death, he declared himself the Emperor and used the Imperial treasury at Lahore to raise an army of new recruits. Asaf Khan, Dawar Baksh, and the battled-hardened Imperial army routed Shahryar’s forces. Prince Shahryar was captured and blinded. In Lahore, Dawar Baksh deluded himself into thinking he really had power. Meanwhile, Shah Jahan sent word to Asaf Khan that he was sending the assassin, Raz Bahadur, to Lahore to execute the five possible contenders to the throne – Dawar Baksh, Dawar Baksh’s younger brother, Prince Shahryar, and two other male cousins. When Raz Bahadur reached Lahore, Shah Jahan was just reaching Agra. The assassin beheaded the five and brought their heads to Agra. In Agra, Shah Jahan was declared Emperor. Nur Jahan, bereft of all influence, was sent to Lahore where she received a generous pension and lived with her daughter. Asaf Khan, the father-in-law of Shah Jahan and the kingmaker, was made Chief Minister to the Emperor. He became the second wealthiest person in the Empire. Mahabat Khan

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Jahangir Mahal, Agra Fort

The Habshi, Malik Ambar, died in 1626 and was succeeded by his son. During his generalship in the Deccan, Malik Ambar had created a large fighting force consisting of Habshis and Marathas. Ahmadnagar was the cauldron that helped create the future Maratha nation. One of Malik Ambar’s military commanders was a Maratha chief whose grandson, Shivaji, would lead the Marathas to power.

Nur Jahan was the rare female in Mughal India to have exercised Imperial power. She was capable and loyal to Jahangir, looking after and nursing him during his periods of incapacity. The status of women in India whether Hindu and Muslim was defined by their relationship to males. Muslim women enjoyed a few more rights than Hindu women. They had the right of property ownership and could remarry. Hindu women were considered mere chattels belonging to their husbands. They could be discarded at will and were sometimes expected to end their lives when their husbands died.

Malik Ambar was one of the great generals of the Deccan and Cumbala Hill in Mumbai derives its name from the birthplace of Malik Ambar in Ethiopia. Most of the Habshis integrated into Indian society but small communities of Africans can still be identified in western India and are known as “Siddis”.

After India gained independence, Prime Minister Nehru and his Law Minister, Ambedkar, passed legislation to create gender equality. Unfortunately, Muslim women were excluded. Monogamy was imposed on Hindus, Christians, Jains and Buddhists as being beneficial to their communities and to society.

was rewarded with the post of commander-in-chief of the army. Even the assassin, Raz Bahadur, was honoured publicly for his contribution to Shah Jahan’s success.



Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Chapter 29

Splendour Amidst Misery

Shah Jahan

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Shahjahanaba d Delhi ASSAM









,A hmadnagar


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1643 Agra

Shah Jahan builds himself a mausoleum

The Taj Mahal, Agra

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In his time, Shah Jahan was the richest monarch in the world. He displayed his wealth through the splendour of his dress and the opulence of his court. In 1631, his wife Mumtaz Mahal died. Her final resting place would be next to his. His father’s mausoleum was being built under the supervision of the widow, Nur Jahan. Shah Jahan decided that his final resting place must be the most beautiful building in the world and he built the Taj. The building of mausoleums is not an Islamic tradition. The Mughals loved gardens and laid out many in North India. Each garden was meant to be a vision of paradise on earth. The Timurids did not reside permanently at any location. The court moved with their tent city. A well laid out garden meant that there was a ready site at which to set up their court. Babur had gardens laid out at Agra (the Ram Bargh) and Kabul (the Babur Bargh). When he died his body was taken and buried in a simple grave at the garden in Kabul. The structures built at his grave were constructed much later by his grandson Jahangir and great grandson Shah Jahan. Akbar was influenced by Sufism. Sufism was brought to the Indian subcontinent in the thirteenth century by Muinuddin Chishti who settled in Ajmer. He attracted a substantial following and when he died his gravesite became a pilgrimage destination. Akbar himself undertook a pilgrimage on foot to Ajmer. According to Sufi belief, on the death anniversary of a Sufi saint, the grave was in union with god. The death anniversary of Sufi saints became occasions of piety and celebration at the burial site of the saint. Since the Mughal Emperors viewed themselves as God’s shadow on earth, Akbar wanted their grave sites to be equally venerated. To encourage this veneration, Akbar began the Mughal practice of mausoleum building. During his reign, he built a mausoleum set in a garden paradise at Delhi for his father, Humayan. He began the construction of his own mausoleum at Sikri. This was completed by his son Jahangir. The Empress Nur Jahan decided that

her father, Itmaduddaulah, merited the same veneration as the Mughal Emperors and built a mausoleum for him. She also supervised the construction of Jahangir’s mausoleum at Lahore which was completed during the reign of Shah Jahan. The Taj was the last of the great Mughal mausoleums and, fortunately for Shah Jahan, he built it during his lifetime. His son Aurangzeb, the next Emperor, was a strict Sunni and did not believe in such ostentations. Aurangzeb himself was buried in a simple grave. It took twelve years to build the Taj and no effort was spared in ensuring that it would be more beautiful than anything built before it. The greatest innovation and the one that makes the Taj enchanting is the decision to encase the brickwork structure in blinding white marble. The marble was decorated with semi-precious stones. Twenty-five thousand workmen, the majority of whom were Hindu craftsmen, toiled over its construction. The Taj was conceived as an allegory of the “Day of Judgment”. The gateway and garden were a symbolic representation of the gateway and garden of Paradise. The main entrance represented the gateway through which the Prophet entered heaven. The four water channels represented the four rivers of Paradise. Shah Jahan’s resting place under the bulbous tomb was meant to represent the throne of God. This is where God would pass judgment on humans. The allegory was made clear through the use of inscriptions from the Koran. The south facade, for example, displays the Sura 89 whose theme is the Judgment Day. In the epitaph inscribed on his grave, Shah Jahan is described as Rizwan, the gatekeeper of Paradise. The Taj was Shah Jahan’s attempt at modelling himself in the image of God. The Taj cost the Imperial Treasury five million rupees. This was a paltry sum for the Emperor. One half to one third of the annual output of the one hundred twenty million people in the Mughal Empire was taken by the state as its

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Imperial revenue. In Shah Jahan’s time, this amounted to two hundred and twenty million rupees. Two thirds of this revenue was distributed to less than seven hundred people. The Emperor himself appropriated more than fifty million rupees for himself. Once the Taj was built, Shah Jahan showed little interest in the project and rarely visited the building. He was distracted both by his next building project, the erection of a royal city, Shahjahanabad, in Delhi and the expensive wars fought along the borders of the Empire. In 1652, when his son, Aurangzeb stopped at Agra to pay respect to his mother’s grave, he noted the Taj’s state of disrepair.

for themselves, leaving both the peasant and the artisan in abject poverty. India exported large quantities of textiles, only because most Indians were virtually naked and not because it had a superior production technology. The flow of bullion into India as a result of exports was irrelevant to the economy as most of the gold was hoarded by the Emperor and did not lead to capital formation that could improve the productivity of the economy. The Dutch East India Company official Francois Pelsaert noted:

In the seventeenth century, the fabulous wealth of the Mughals made India appear to be a land of fortune. At the same time, it had the poorest people. Bernier noted: “... the inhabitants of India have less the appearance of moneyed people than those of other parts of the world”. The coexistence of immense wealth and miserable poverty was related. The rich in India were wealthy not because India was a prosperous country with a productive economy but because they could wring almost every bit of wealth produced from the farmlands and the factories

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Humayan’s Mausoleum

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“In the palaces of these lords dwells all the wealth there is, wealth which glitters indeed, but is borrowed, wrung from the sweat of the poor. Consequently their position is as unstable as the wind, resting on no firm foundation, but rather on pillars of glass, resplendent in the eyes of the world, but in danger of imminent collapse at the slightest stress.” The poor faced the constant threat of famine. There were several major famines during the reign of Shah Jahan, one of the worst occurring in 1632. The official Mughal historian records that in that year: “The inhabitants of the Deccan and Gujarat were reduced to the direst extremity. Life was offered for a loaf, but none would buy: rank was to be sold for a cake, but none cared for it. Destitution at last reached such a pitch that men began to devour each other, and the flesh of a son was preferred to his love. The numbers of the dying caused obstructions on the roads, and every man whose dire sufferings did not terminate in death and who retained the power to move wandered off to the towns and villages of other provinces. These lands which had been famous for their fertility and plenty now retained no trace of productiveness.”

Johan Van Twist who visited Mughal India in 1648 on behalf of the Dutch East India Company gives a more graphic description of famine in India: “In towns and villages, in fields and on the roads, men lay dead in great numbers, causing such a stench that it was terrible to use the ways. For want of grass, cattle fed on corpses. As the famine increased, men abandoned towns and villages, and wandered helplessly. It was easy to recognise their condition – eyes sunk deep in the head, lips pale and covered in slime, the skin hard, with bones showing through, the belly nothing but a pouch hanging down empty, knuckles and kneecaps showing prominently. Men deserted their wives and children. Women sold themselves as slaves. Mothers sold their children. Children deserted by their parents sold themselves. Some families took poison, and so died together; others threw themselves into the rivers. Mothers and their children went to the riverbank and drowned themselves hand in hand, so that the rivers flowed full of corpses. Some ate carrion flesh. Others cut up the corpses of men, and drew out the entails to fill their own bellies. Men lying in the street not yet dead were cut up by others, and men fed on living men, so that even in the streets, and still more on road journeys, men ran great danger of being murdered and eaten. Akbar’s Mausoleum

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Terrible tragedies were seen everyday. A mother had killed and cooked her only son. Husbands ate their wives, and wives ate their husbands. Some of our Dutchmen found some people sitting at a fire where hands and feet were cooking, a terrible thing to see.” The war of succession that brought Shah Jahan to power was short and limited. He inherited an Empire with a rich treasury and an immense army. He began his reign with a few military victories. An Afghan noble, Khan Jahan Lodi, who was the governor of the Deccan province, had failed to support Shah Jahan during the succession war and so was in disfavour. Facing certain punishment, he was pushed into open revolt. The Imperial army crushed the rebellion, and chased the fugitive Afghan round the country until he was apprehended and beheaded. The head was delivered to Shah Jahan. This impressed on the Mughal nobility the power of the Emperor. The Portuguese traders in Bengal offended the Emperor. They had settled in Bengal at Hugli under the protection of an Imperial edict around 1579. They had a monopoly on the manufacture of salt and had a customs house of their own at their port where they imposed a levy on tobacco. The Portuguese were well armed and skilled in their use of their ships and so the Mughal officers in Bengal accepted the loss of revenue rather than impose Mughal authority over them. The Portuguese were also involved in a slave trade and habitually bought or seized Muslim and Hindu children to be sold as slaves or converted to Christianity. A transaction involving the enslavement of two girls who were under the protection of Mumtaz Mahal offended Mughal Imperial honour. The Governor of Bengal was ordered to exterminate the settlement at Hugli. Hugli was situated on an open plain along the banks of the Ganges. There were no fortifications. The garrison consisted of about three hundred European soldiers assisted by about seven hundred local Christian converts. The Mughal

governor was so afraid of European military superiority that he collected an army of 150,000 men before laying siege to the town in 1632. The garrison held out for three months before they attempted to escape by setting sail down the river. Many of the ships were lost and four hundred survivors were captured by the Mughal army. Despite its overwhelming numerical superiority, the Imperial army suffered a thousand fatal casualties. The Christian captives were brought to Delhi and given the choice of conversion to Islam or slavery under severe circumstances. Shah Jahan now turned his Islamic zeal against the Hindus and ordered the destruction of Hindu temples. In the Benares area alone, seventy-six temples were destroyed. When Shah Jahan was rebelling against his father, he sought refuge in Ahmadnagar which was controlled by its Prime Minister, the Habshi General, Malik Ambar. In 1626, Malik Ambar died and was succeeded by his son. In 1632, the Mughal Army attacked the Ahmadnagar kingdom and laid siege to Daulatabad. Malik Ambar’s son surrendered and entered the service of the Mughal army. The puppet Nizam Shahi Sultan was taken to Gwalior and lifelong captivity. At this critical moment, the Maratha chief, Shahji, found another scion of the Nizam Shahi family and took up the cause of the Ahmadnagar state. While the Mughals had brought the Nizam Shahi dynasty to an end, they now faced the even more tenacious Marathas. Shah Jahan sent messages to the Sultans of Bijapur and Golconda to recognize Mughal suzerainty and refrain from assisting the Marathas. Golconda agreed but Bijapur was not compliant. Shah Jahan sent three armies with orders to kill and ravage as much as possible of the Bijapur territory. The armies burnt, robbed, enslaved and slayed the helpless population. The capital of Bijapur was saved from the invaders by flooding the surrounding land but the defence of the whole kingdom against the Mughal armies was not possible. In 1636, Bijapur submitted to Mughal terms.

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In the north, Shah Jahan’s military ventures were repeatedly unsuccessful. In 1638, the Persian governor of Kandahar surrendered the city to the Mughals in return for a high position and reward. Shah Jahan intended to extend the limits of his Empire even further north and in 1646 sent an expedition which captured Balkh in Central Asia. But the new territory could not be defended and the Mughal army was forced to retreat suffering heavy casualties. The Persian Shah took this opportunity of Mughal defeat at Balkh to capture Kandahar in 1647. Shah Jahan made three expensive attempts to recapture Kandahar and all three failed ignominiously. Mughal armies also invaded Tibet and Assam but the difficult terrain, extended supply lines, and the stubborn resistance of the inhabitants led to Mughal withdrawal from these areas. In 1639, Shah Jahan launched his biggest building project, the construction of a new city, Shahjahanabad, in Delhi. The centrepiece of the city was a large sandstone fortress palace overlooking the Yamuna River. Opposite the fortress, the largest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid, was constructed. Shah Jahan commissioned the most expensive and magnificent throne ever crafted in India. When the city was completed in 1648, there was a great twelve day celebration. Shah Jahan set out from Agra on the royal barge to his new city and ascended the jewelled throne in the Hall of Public Audience. The inner roof of the throne was enamelled with a few gems set here and there but the outside was covered with rubies, garnets and other gems. Twelve pillars of emeralds supported the roof. Above the throne were two peacock figures studded with rubies, diamonds, pearls, and emeralds. Three jewelled steps led to the Emperor’s seat. When Shah Jahan received a large diamond from Mir Jumla, a noble from Golconda who later became his Prime Minister, he had the diamond dangling from the roof of the throne so that it would be at his eye level.

Shah Jahan led a sensual lascivious life. He had multiple adulterous liaisons with the wives of his nobles, which his nobles wisely pretended not to know. Fairs were organized in the fort to which only women were invited. According to Manucci: “The king visited the stalls twice every day, seated on a small throne carried by several Tartar women and surrounded by matrons. If any seller attracted his fancy, the matrons would take care that she was produced in the royal presence. Many came out of the palace very rich and satisfied, while others continued to dwell there as concubines.” The first two decades of Shah Jahan’s rule may be considered as the peak of the Mughal Empire. A contemporary admiring Mughal historian writing in 1647 noted four features of that Empire. First its enormous size of the Empire with twenty-two provinces, stretching from Sindh to Bengal and from Kashmir to the Deccan. Second was the enormous revenue extracted from the population. Third was Shah Jahan’s ability to have a reserve of wealth despite his enormous expenditure on wars and luxury. Fourth was the military strength of the army with over 200,000 cavalry. The historian failed to note the poor infrastructure of the country because of the overwhelming poverty of the population and the military weakness of the Mughals in both the firepower of the artillery and the capability of its navy. In 1657, Shah Jahan fell ill. Even though he recovered from his illness, the event sparked a war of succession among his children. In 1658, he was imprisoned at Agra by the victor, his third son, Aurangzeb, who went on to enthrone himself as the next Emperor. Though a prisoner for nine years at Agra Fort, Shah Jahan was allowed by his son the liberty to pursue the pleasures of female company. In 1666, Shah Jahan fell ill from an excess of aphrodisiacs. He died alone and mostly unmourned. His body was unceremoniously taken to the Taj and buried there without fanfare.

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In twenty-first century India, the misery of abject poverty and famine, a hallmark of Mughal India, has abated while Mughal splendour continues to dazzle. The Taj has become a symbol of India. Its exquisite beauty attracts more than two million tourists annually. On a moonlit night, the ethereal image produced by light reflected on marble inspires the visitor to believe that a structure so sublime must be inspired by love. New myths of romance that resonate with these feelings have been created to administer to the needs of the lucrative tourist market.

In 1739, the marauding Persian ruler, Nader Shah, looted Delhi, taking Shah Jahan’s magnificent throne with the peacock motif back to Persia. When Nader Shah was assassinated in 1747, the throne was lost in the chaos that followed. Subsequent Persian thrones, which were merely chairs decorated with gems, though much less ostentatious and certainly much less expensive, continued to carry the title of the Peacock Throne.

Itmaduddaulah’s Mausoleum

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Panel showing Mughal fondness for flowering plants motif

In the twentieth century, this term came to be identified with the Persian monarchy.

“The gem called the Koh-i-Noor shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England.”

Mir Jumla’s gift which hung from the peacock throne is believed to be the Kor-I-Noor diamond. After the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747, the stone came into the possession of the Afghan rulers. In 1830, the deposed Afghan ruler presented it to Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Maharajah of Punjab, in return for assistance. In 1849, Ranjit Singh on his deathbed willed the diamond to the Jagannath Temple in Orissa, but the diamond did not reach its destination. The avaricious British obtained the diamond through a treaty forced on Punjab. Under the treaty:

The Kor-I-Noor was shipped to England. The diamond is now set in a crown kept at Windsor Castle while a copy of the crown is on display to the public at the Tower of London. After Independence, both India and Orissa State asked for the return of the diamond, though India’s first Prime Minister, Nehru, was disdainful of the gem saying: “Diamonds are for the Emperors and India does not need Emperors.” Opposite page: Tombs of Shan Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Chapter 30

The Seizer of the Universe


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Sri thl811r •




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Select Bibliography Chapter 1 The Dancing Girl Feuerstein, Georg. In Search of the Cradle of Civilization. Wheaton: Quest Books, 1995. Chapter 2 The Vedic Age Dharma, Krishna. Ramayana – India’s Immortal Tale of Adventure, Love and Wisdom. Badger: Torchlight Publishing, California, 2004. Johnson, W.J. The Bhagavad Gita. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Rajagopalachari, C. Mahabharata. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2002. Chapter 3 The Middle Path Armstrong, Karen. Buddha. London: Orionbooks, 2000. _______. The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah. London: Atlantic Books, 2006. Barua, Dipak. Buddha Gaya Temple: Its History. Calcutta: Joyguru Printing, 1975. Eraly, Abraham. Gem in the Lotus. London: Orion Books, 2000. Rockhill, W.W. The Life of the Buddha and the Early History of His Order: Derived from Tibetan Works in the Bkah-Hgyur and Bstan-Hgyur. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1992. Chapter 4 Greeks at the Door Cawthorne, Nigel. Alexander the Great. London: Haus Publishing, 2004. McCrindle, J.W. The Invasion of India by Alexander the Great as described by Arrian, Q. Curtius, Diodorus, Plutarch and Justin. Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. Chapter 5 The Science of Government Raychaudhuri, H. Political History of Ancient India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Chapter 6 Remorse at Kalinga Bhandarkar, D. R. The Carmichael Lectures (1923) Asoka, first published by the University of Calcutta in 1925. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 2000. Thapir, Romila. Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997. Chapter 7 Martyrdom at Mylapore Kurikilamkatt, J. First Voyage of the Apostle Thomas to India. Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2005. Chapter 8 Valley of Blood Dumoulin, Heinrich. Zen Buddhism: A History. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2005. Harmatta, Janos. History of Civilizations of Central Asia Volume II: The Development of Sedentary and Nomadic Civilizations: 700 BC to AD 250. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 1994. Lamotte, Etienne. History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Saka Era, translated by Sara Webb-Boin. Louvain-Paris: Peeters Press, 1988. Litvinsky, B. A. History of Civilizations of Central Asia Volume III: The Crossroads of Civilizations: AD 250 to 750. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 1996. Chapter 9 The Nine Gems Behl, Benoy. The Ajanta Caves. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1998.

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Chapter 10 The Giver of Knowledge Beal, Samuel. Si-Yu-Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World – Translated from the Chinese of Hiuen Tsiang (A.D. 629). New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981. __________. The Life of Hiuen-Tsiang by the Shaman Hwui Li. New Delhi: Asia Educational Services, 1998. Chapter 11 Arab Storm Bloom, Jonathan. Islam: Empire of Faith. London: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 2001. Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. New York: Modern Library Classics, 2003. Rogerson, Barnaby. The Heirs of Muhammad. New York: Overlook Press, 2006. Chapter 12 The Reformation Gupta, Dipankar. Social Stratification. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991. Chapter 13 The Gates of Somnath Sachau, Edward. Alberuni’s India. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. 2004. Thapar, Romila. Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2004. Chapter 14 Beacon of Civilization Hall, D.G.E. A History of Southeast Asia, Fouth Edition. London: Macmillan Press, 1981. Heidhues, M.S. Southeast Asia: A Concise History. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000. Madhavan, Chithra. History and Culture of Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 2005. Munoz, P.M. Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago & the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Didier Millet, 2006. Chapter 15 Sovereign Lord Festing, Gabrielle. When Kings Rode to Delhi. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1997. Chapter 16, 17, 18, 19 A Slave’s Slave; The Shadow of Allah; Thousand Dinar Kafur; Delhi Woes Curtin, Jeremiah. The Mongols: A History. USA: Da Capo Press, 2003. Jackson, Peter. The Delhi Sultanate: A Political & Military History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Jayapalan, N. Medieval History of India. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2001. Lambah, A.N. The Architecture of the Indian Sultanate. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2006. Mackintosh-Smith, T. The Travels of Ibn Battutah. London: Picador, 2002. Marozzi, Justin. Tamerlane. London: Harper Collins, 2004. Mukerjee, R. A History of Indian Civilization Volume II: Medieval & Modern Synthesis. Bombay: Hind Kitabs, 1966. Pipes, Daniel. Slave Soldiers & Islam: The Genesis of a Military System. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981. Sandhu, Gurcharn S. A Military History of Medieval India. New Delhi: Vision Books, 2003. Singh, Meera. Medieval History of India. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing, 1978. Weatherford, J.M. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004. Chapter 20, 25 The Bulwark; The Death of a City Krishnaswamy, S. Traditional and Vernacular Architecture. Chennai: Madras Craft Foundation, 2003. Michell, George. Vijayanagara: Splendour in Ruins. Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, 2008. Sastri, Nilakanta. A History of South India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955. Sewell, Robert. A Forgotten Empire (1925). Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. Stein, Burton. Vijayanagara. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.


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Chapter 21 For Christians and Spices Boorstin, D. J. The Discoverers. New York: Vintage Books,1983. Osorio, Jerome. The History of the Portuguese. Germany: Ascanio Books, 2008. Pearson, M. N. The Portuguese In India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Subrahmanyam, S. Explorations in Connected History: Mughals and Franks. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005. ________ . The Career and Legend of Vasco Da Gama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Chapter

2 2, 23, 24, 26, 28, 29, 30 Matchlocks and Cannons; The Afghan; The Last Maharajah of Delhi; The Divine Religion; The Light of the World; Splendour Amidst Misery; The Seizer of the Universe Bernier, Francois. Travels in The Mogul Empire AD 1656-1668. New Delhi: Asia Educational Services, 2004. Bhargava, M. L. Hemu and His Times. New Delhi: Reliance Publishing House, 1991. Chandra, Satish. Medieval India Part Two, Third Edition. New Delhi: Har-anand Publications, 2004. Churchill, Winston S. The Story of the Malakand Field Force. (First published in London, 1898). New York: Dover Publications, 2010. Eraly, Abraham. The Mughal World. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2007. _______. The Mughal Throne. London: Phoenix, 2004. Findly, Ellison. Nur Jahan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. Gascoigne, Bamber. The Great Moguls. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002. Gommans, Jos. Mughal Warfare. London: Routledge, 2002. Habib, Irfan. Akbar and His India. New Delhi: Oxford India, 1997. _______. The Agrarian System of Mughal India, Second Edition. New Delhi: Oxford India, 1999. Matta, Basheer A. K. Sher Shah Suri: A Fresh Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Polo, Marco. The Travels of Marco Polo. New York: Dover Publications, 1993. Preston, Diana. A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time. London: Corgi Books, 2008. Robinson, Francis. The Mughal Emperors. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007. Schimmel, A. The Empire of The Great Mughals. London: Reaktion Books, 2004. Thackston, W. M. The Baburnama. New York: Modern Library, 2002. Chapter 27 The Book Grewal, J. S. The Sikhs of Punjab. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Singh, Patwant. The Sikhs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. Singh, Daljeet. Sikhism. Chandigarh: Institute of Sikh Studies, 1997.

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Further Reading Ahmed, Akbar. Islam Today. London: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 1999. Alam, Muzaffar. Indo-Persian Travels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Asher, Catherine. India before Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Avari, Burjor. India: The Ancient Past: A History of the Indian Subcontinent from 7000 BC to AD 1200. London: Routledge, 2007. Blacker, J. F. The A B C of Indian Art. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 2006. Basham, A. L. A Cultural History of India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. Brown, Dale. Ancient India: Land of Mystery. London: Time-Life/Caxton Publishing, 2005. Craven, Roy. Indian Art: A Concise History. London: Thames & Hudson, 1976. Danielou, Alain. A Brief History of India. Paris: Fayard, 1971. Eaton, R. M. India’s Islamic Traditions. New Delhi: Oxford India, 2003. Elliot, H. M. The History of India as Told by its Own Historians. London: Trubner, 1869. Embree, Ainslie. Sources of Indian Tradition Volume I and II, Second Edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. Guha, Ramachandra. India After Gandhi. London: Pan Books 2007. Hardy, Peter. Historians of Medieval India. California: Greenword Press, 1982. Hiro, Dilip. The Rough Guide Chronicle India. London: Penguin, 2002. Iyengar, P.T.S. History of the Tamils. New Delhi: Asia Educational Services, 2001. Joglekar, J. D. Decisive Battles India Lost. India: Somaiya Publications, 1970. Johnson, Gordon. Cultural Atlas of India. England: Andromeda Oxford Limited, 1996. Kaul, H. K. Historic Delhi: An Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. Keay, John. India: A History. New York: Grove Press, 2000. _______. India Discovered. London: Harper Collins, 2001. _______. Into India. London: John Murray Publishers, 1973. Kolff, Dirk. Naukar, Rajput and Sepoy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Lane-Poole, Stanley. Mediaeval India under Mohammedan Rule. USA: Elibron Classics, 2005. Metcalf, Barbara. A Concise History of Modern India Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Morley, Grace. Indian Sculpture. New Delhi: Roli Books, 2005. Rai, Gurmeet. Inherited Spaces Inhabited Places: World Heritage Sites In India. New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs, 2006. Sardesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview: Boulder, 2008. Sen, Amartya. The Argumentative Indian. London: Penguin Books, 2006. Spear, Percival. The Oxford History of India, Fourth Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981. Stein, Burton. A History of India. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998. Thapar, Romila. A History Of India Volume I. London: Penguin Books, 1966. _______. The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. London: Penguin, 2002. Watson, Francis. India: A Concise History. London: Thames & Hudson, 1974. Wood, Michael. The Story of India. London: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Books, 2007.



Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Photo Credits Photograph on page xix: courtesy of Andy Ho Chi Kiong.

Photograph on page 129: courtesy of Anita Jiawen Sadasivan.

Photographs on the front cover (An artist’s impression of Lothal), page 8, 10-11, 22, 101, 116, 117, 121, 126, 142, 157, 170, 172-173, 185, 189, 203, 205, 228, 242, 243, 244, 245, 254, 274-275, 281, 284, 286-287, 288, 292, 296, 300: Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains of National Importance; courtesy of Archaeological Survey of India. Photographs on page 14, 90, 152, 211 (Rani Vav Step-well): courtesy of Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.

Photographs on the back cover (Krishna Instructs Arjuna by B.G. Sharma), page 12: courtesy of B. G. Sharma Art Gallery, India. Photographs on page 65, 132: courtesy of Balaji Sadasivan.

Photograph on page 128: courtesy of Dharma Yongwen Sadasivan.

Photograph on page 115 (Somapura Mahavihara): courtesy of Department of Archaeology, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Bangladesh. Photograph on page 56: courtesy of Emil Kren, Web Gallery of Art available at .

Photographs on page 104, 144: reproduced from Frances W. Pritchett, Indian Routes available at: . Photograph on page 2: Collection, National Museum, New Delhi; courtesy of Gauri Krishnan.

Photographs on page 25, 26-27, 28, 29, 40, 48, 53, 54-55, 76, 79, 80, 82, 86: courtesy of George Tan Kok Thye.

Photographs on the front cover (the statuette of the dancing girl), page 4, 6, 7, 9, 43: reproduced from George Weber, The Indus Valley Civilization (2009) available at . Photographs on page 18-19, 30, 46, 68, 69, 84, 93, 96, 106, 125, 156, 160, 164, 166, 178, 193, 196, 198, 218, 240, 250, 262, 268, 294: courtesy of Getty Images. Photographs on page 94, 102, 148, 176, 180, 202, 223, 230, 235, 236, 252, 258, 267, 276, 278-279, 282, 291, 297: courtesy of Images of Asia.

Photographs on page 32, 34: reproduced from Jona Lendering, Livius: Articles on Ancient History (2011) available at . Photograph on page 138: courtesy of Karen Willms.

Photographs on page 20, 66, 74, 77, 81, 92, 108, 131, 190, 215, 264, 293: Collection, Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore; courtesy of Ma Swan Hoo. Photographs on page viii-ix, 1, 58, 62-63, 64, 88, 91, 109, 110, 111, 112-113, 114, 130, 133, 134, 135, 136, 188, 194, 201, 204, 208, 211 (Adalaj Vav Step-well), 232, 272, 302, 303: courtesy of Ma Swan Hoo.

Photograph on page 50-51: reproduced from Michael D. Gunther, Old Stones: The Monuments of Art History available at .

Photograph on page 73: courtesy of Peshawar Museum Collection, Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Photographs on page 115 (Borobudur Temple), 137, 139: courtesy of Pushpa Mirwani.

Illustrations on page 38, 118, 120, 140, 150, 158, 168, 186, 206, 212, 216, 226, 238, 260, 270: courtesy of Redbean De Pte Ltd. Map illustrations on page 3, 13, 21, 31, 39, 47, 57, 67, 75, 85, 95, 100, 105, 119, 127, 141, 151, 159, 169, 179, 187, 197, 207, 217, 227, 239, 247, 251, 261, 271, 283, 295: courtesy of Redbean De Pte Ltd.

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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

Index A

Abbasid dynasty, 97, 136 Abhimanyu’s Fort, 15 absolute monarchy, 44, 54, 135 Adham Khan, 254 Adi Granth, 263, 265 Adil Shah, 231, 246–47 Aditya I, King, 129 Ahmad, Sultan, 209–10 Aibek, Qutb-ud-din, 146, 153–54, 171, 219 Ajanta Caves, 81, 90 Akbar, Emperor, 209, 231, 233-34, 237, 253–59, 265–66, 285, 303 Alamgir, 301, 303 Ala-ud-din Bahman, 192 Ala-ud-din Khalji, 171–77, 189, 195, 210 Albuquerque, Alfonso, 203 Alexander the Great, 6, 33–37, 41–42, 45, 172, 219 Al Qaeda, 225 Ambhi, King, 33, 41 Amritsar, 263, 265–66, 269 Anandapal, King, 122 Angkor Thom, 138 Angkor Wat, 137 Anglican Church, 65 Aramaic script, 37, 50 Arjuna, warrior, 15, 17 Arjan Dev, Guru, 263, 265–67 Arthasastra, 44–45, 51 Aryans, 9, 11 Asaf Khan, 276, 279, 280 Asoka, 43–44, 49–54, 59, 71, 107, 137 Atharva Vedas, 15 August Nine, members of, 83 Aurangzeb, Emperor, 80, 125, 177, 285–86, 290, 297–302 Avalokiteshvara, 72, 138 Avestan, people, 8–9


Babri Mosque, 19 Babur, Emperor, 19, 209–10, 212–15, 219–21, 229, 233, 256, 263, 285 Bahmani Sultanate, 192–93, 195, 241–43

Bairam Khan, 229, 231, 233, 253–54, 256 Balban, Sultan, 161–63, 165–66, 171, 219 Ballala III, King, 191–92 Ban Chao, General, 71 Banerjee, R.D., 6 Bardai, Chard, 149 Battle of the Hydaspes, 33, 34 Bhagavad Gita, 15, 17–18, 109 Bhakti Movement, 108, 110 Bhim Dev, 145 Bhoj, Raja, 125 Bimbisara, King, 23–25, 27 Bindusara, 43–44, 49 Bodhgaya Temple Act, 29 Bodhidharma, 90 Bodhisattva, 72, 89, 92, 138 Bodhi tree, 29, 53 Borobudur, 138 Brahma Dev, Raja, 124–25, 145 brahmins, 16, 37, 41, 43, 45, 59, 61, 65, 101, 107–08, 135, 147, 184, 209, 244, 263, 265, 303 Brahmi script, 37, 50–51 British Raj, 9, 45, 205 Bronze Age, 5 Bronze Sanxingdui Civilization, 11 Buddha, 18, 23–24, 27–29, 49–50, 53, 72 see also Buddhism; Siddhartha Buddha Amitabha, 72 Buddhism, 18, 24, 29, 52, 53, 60, 71–72, 80, 87–90, 107, 117, 131, 137, 147, 149 Chan Buddhism, 72, 90 Hinayana Buddhism, 71, 81 Mahayana Buddhism, 69, 8–71, 81, 114, 138 Theravada Buddhism, 53, 71, 138 Tibetan Buddhism, 114 Vajrayana Buddhism, 114 Zen Buddhism, 72, 90 see also Buddha; Siddhartha Buddhist Council, 53


Cabral, Pedro, 201–02 Caesar, Augustus, 60

“Carpenter’s Cave”, 81 caste system, 9, 16, 265 Catholic Church, 64–65 Ceasaro, Federici, 248–49 Chalukya dynasty, 131 Chan Buddhism, 72, 90 Chandalas, untouchables, 77, 110 Chandragupta I, 78 Chandragupta II, 37, 77–78 Chinese civilization, 5 Chishti, Salim, 253 Chola Empire, 129, 131, 135 Chola, Rajendra, 129, 131, 133, 136 Christianity, 59, 61, 65, 155 Chitrasutra, The, 81 Churchill, Winston, 224–25 Columbus, Christopher, 200 Constantine, Emperor, 65 contract “mutah” marriages, 257 copper smelting, 6 cuneiform, 5 Cunningham, Alexander, 87


da Gama, Vasco, 64, 199–202 Dahir, King, 97, 101–03 dancing girl, statuette, 5–6 Dara Shikoh, 297–302 Darius, Emperor, 33 de Almeida, 203 Devanampiyatissa, King, 53 Devaraya II, 241–42, 244 Dholavira, ancient site, 7 Diaz, Bartholomew, 200 Din-I-Ilahi, (Divine Religion), 253, 259 doctrine of analysis, 53 “Doubting Thomas”, 61 Dravidian culture, 59 Durant, Will, 167 Dutch East India Company, officials, 286, 288


Edessa Church, 63–64 Egypt, 5, 60, 203 eighteen, religious number, 16 Ellenborough, Lord, 125 Ellora cave temples, 80–81, 112 Epics, 15–16


Fareed Khan, see Sher Shah Suri Fatehpur Sikri, 253, 256 Faxian, 71–72, 77, 88 Festing, Gabrielle, 146 First Buddhist Council, 24 Firuz Shah, 183, 185, 210 Four Noble Truths, doctrine, 23 Fourth Buddhist Council, 88 Funan, kingdom of, 137


Gampo, King, 92 Gautama, see Buddha Genghis Khan, 155, 161–63, 165, 219 Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq, 177, 181–82 Goa, 203–05 “Golden Age of India, The”, 83 Golden Temple, Amritsar, 263, 269 Gondophernes, King, 61, 69 Great Stupa of Sanchi, 49 Grand Trunk Road, 219, 224 Great Wall of China, 69–70 Greek script, 50–51 Green Palace, 97 Guanyin, 72 Gupta Empire, 78 Gurmukhi, 265 Guru Arjan Dev, 263, 265–67 Guru Nanak, 263, 265


Hajjaj, governor, 99, 101–02 Hakra river, 8, 11 Hampi Bazaar, 241 Hanafi School, 155, 256–57, 259 Han dynasty, 70 Hanuman, 16, 241 Harappa, 6–7 Hargobind, Guru, 267, 269 Harihara, King, 189, 191–92 Harsha, Emperor, 88–89, 92, 107, 110 Hemu, Maharajah, 229–31, 233, 235 Herodotus, 33 hieroglyphics, 5, 51 Hinayana Buddhism, 71, 81 Hindu identity, 249


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Index Hindus, disputes with Muslims, 19 “Hindustani” elite, 173 Hinduism, 18, 29, 80, 83, 90, 107–10, 117, 137, 191, 193, 241 Homo sapiens, 5 Hormuz, 203 Hulegu, 165–66 Humayan, 221–22, 229, 231, 253, 255–56, 266, 285 Hussein Shah, 209 Hydaspes, Battle of the, 33, 34


Ibn Battutah, 181–82, 192, 201 Ibrahim Lodi, Sultan, 210, 213, 220 Ice Age, 5 Iltutmish, Sultan, 153–56, 162–63, 165, 171, 219 Indian Christians, 64 Indian Influence, and Southeast Asia, 137 Indo-Gangetic Valley, 5 Indo-Pakistan war, 73 Indus Valley Civilization, 5–9, 11, 15, 50 Indus Valley script, 51 Iron Age, 16 Islam, 18, 72, 97, 107, 122, 153, 155, 184, 191, 193, 210, 263, 289 Islamic caliphs, 97–99 Islamic Schools of Law, 155, 256 Islam Shah, 229–31


Jainism, 29, 80, 90, 107 Jahangir, Emperor, 266, 269, 273, 275–77, 279–81, 285, 297, 301 Jalal-ud-din Khalji, 167, 171–72 James, apostle, 59 Jauhar, 173, 175, 210 Jayapala, King, 122 Jayavarman VII, King, 138 Jewish migrants, 61, 65 Jewish tribes, 98 Jhelum river, 33–36, 210, 280 jihad, 214, 225, 234, 243, 247, 249 John, Prestor, 199–200 Judaism, 155 Judeo-Christianity, 63


Kadaram, 129 Kafur, Hazadinari, 174–77 Kalidasa, 83 Kalinga, 60, 133, 135, 137, rise of, 59 war, 50 Kanishka casket, 73 Kanishka, King, 69, 71, 73, 107 Kanva dynasty, 60 Kautilya, 41–45 Kedah, 129 Khadiphes I, 71 Khadiphes II, 71 Khajuraho temples, 116 Khalji dynasty, 171 Kharavela, King, 59–60 Kharosthi script, 51 kshatriyas, warrior, 15–17, 24, 28, 43, 143, 263 Khunjerab Pass, 69, 71, 73, 92 Khusrau Khan, 177, 181, 266, 275–76, 279 Khwarezm Empire, 155, 161 Koran, 97 Krishna, charioteer, 15, 17 Krishnadevaraya, 243–44, 246 Kuchean, 72 Kulottungga, King, 133, 135–36 Kumaragupta, 78, 89 Kuru kingdom, 16 Kurukshetra, battle at, 15–18 Kushan, 71–73, 77-80


Lahore-Multan railway, 6 Leo, Pope, 78 Lodi dynasty, 184, 209, 219–20 Lothal, ancient site, 7–8 Lotus Sutra, The, 72–73


Macao, 203 Macaulay, Thomas, 125 Mahabat Khan, 276–77, 280 Mahabharata, 15–18, 109, 246 Mahabodhi temple, 29 Mahapadma Nanda, King, 28, 36 Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra, 92

Mahavira, 29 Mahayana Buddhism, 69, 8–72, 81, 114, 138 Mahdawis, 257 Mahdi, 257 Mahinda V, King, 131 Mahmud Bighara, Sultan, 210 Mahmud Ghazni, Sultan, 121–25, 143, 219 Maitreya Budhha, 89 Malacca, 203–04 Malik Ambar, 277, 279, 281, 289 Malliki School, 257 Manucci, 273, 290 Marco Polo, 136 marriages, contract, 257 Masson, Charles, 6 Math, monastery, 189 Maurya, Chandragupta, 41–43, 45, 54 Mauryan Empire, 54, 59, 61, 77 Mauryan period, 41 Mayan Civilization, 11 Megasthenese, 41, 43 Menander, King, 60 Mesolithic Period, 5 Mesopotamia, 6, 8 Milinda Panho, 60 Middle Stone Age, 5 Mihrunnisa, Empress, 273–76 see also Nur Jahan Ming, Emperor, 72 Mirza Hakim, 255, 259 mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), 9 Moggaliputta, 53 Mohammad, Prophet, 97–98, 122, 195, 209, 263 Mohammad Tughluq, 181–83, 189, 191 Mohenjo-Daro, 6-7 Mongols, 155, 161–63, 165, 171, 173–74, 255 Monism, 109 Monophysite schism, 64 Mughal dynasty, 220, 229 Muhammad Bakhtyar Khilji, General, 147, 149 Muhammad Ghuri, 145–47, 149, 219

Muhammad Kassim, General, 99, 101–02 Muinuddin Chishti, 285 Mumtaz Mahal, 276–77, 285, 289, 297 Murad Bakhsh, 297–99, 301 Muslims, disputes with Hindus, 19 Muslim women, rights, 281


Nader Shah, 289, 293 Nagasaki, 203 Nagasena, monk, 60 Nalanda University, 87, 89, 92, 114, 149, 165 Nanak, Guru, 263, 265 Narasimhavarman, King, 89 National Museum, New Delhi, 5 Navaratnas, 83 Neolithic Man, 5 Neolithic Period, 5 Neo-Muslims, 171, 173 Nestorius of Constantinople, 64 New Stone Age, 5 Nicator, Seleucus, 42 Nizam Shahi dynasty, 277, 289 number eighteen, religious significance, 16 Nur Jahan, 276, 279–81, 285 see also Mihrunnisa


“Oath of the Koonam Cross”, 64 Old Stone Age, 5 Orthodox Church, 64 Osama bin Laden, 225 Ottoman Empire, 203 Outline of History, The, 54


Paes, Domingo, 244–45 Pala dynasty, 114 Palaeolithic Man, 5 Palaeolithic Period, 5 Pali canon, 24, 72 Pallava script, 90, 129 Parsees, 9 Pratihara dynasty, 115 Parantaka, King, 129 “Partition of Babylon, The”, 37

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Patel, Sardar Vallabhai, 125 Patna Museum, 41 Pelsaert, Francois, 286 Peter, apostle, 59 Pithora, Rai, 143, 149 Plutarch, 36 Polo, Marco, 136 Pope Leo , 78 Porus, King, 33–37 Prambanan, temple, 139 Prasad, Rajendra, 125 Prasenajit, King, 23–25, 27–28 Pricep, James, 51 Prithiviraj, 143, 145–46, 149 “Proclamation on Somnath”, 125 Pulakesin II, King, 88–91 Puranic Hinduism, 110 Purdah, 274 Pure Land School of Buddhism, 72 Purushotthama, King, see Porus


Qin dynasty, 70 Qinshihuangti, 69 Qutub Minar, 152–53, 157 Qutuz, Sultan, 161, 165 Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, 153, 157


Raja Rana Sanga, 209 Rajaraja, King, 129, 131, 136 Rajendra Chola, King, 129, 131, 133, 136 Rajputs, 143, 145–46, 154–55, 171, 173, 210, 214, 224, 231, 233–35, 237, 255, 266, 297, 303 Ramachandra, King, 175 Ramagupta, 78 Ramaraya, 246–48 Ramavataram, epic, 136 Ramayana, 15–17, 19, 136–37, 139, 209, 241 Ramkot Hill, 18–19 Rashtrakuta dynasty, 91, 110, 112, 131 Raziya, Sultan, 156–57, 163 Record of the Buddhistic Kingdoms, 71, 77 Record of the Western Region, 87

Records of the Grand Historian, 69 Rig Veda, 11, 15, 33 Rig-Vedic, people, 8–9 rivers, and civilizations, 5 Rock Edict, 50–52 Roman conquests, 60 Roman Empire, 78 Rosetta stone, 51 “Rule through the Law of Dhamma”, 50


Saint Thomas Mount, 59 Salim Chishti, 253 Sama Vedas, 15 Samudragupta, 78, 137 Sanchi stupa, 49 “Sandracottes”, 41 Sangam literature, 60 sangha, 49–53 Sanskrit, 8–9, 15, 83 Santhome, church, 59 Saraswati river, 11 Sayyid dynasty, 184, 209 sea route, to India, 199–200 Second Buddhist Council, 24 Seljuk Turks, 143 Seluccid Empire, 60 Semitic script, 51 Shahiya dynasty, 121 Shahjahanabad, 286, 290 Shah Jahan, Emperor, 237, 277, 279–81, 285–86, 287–90, 300–301 sons, 297–99 Shah of Persia, 229, 290 Shah Sujah, 297–99, 303 Shaivism, 89, 191 Saka kingdom, 61 Shang dynasty, 5 Shankara, Adi, 107–10 Sher Shah Suri, 219, 221–25, 229, 251, 253, 256 Shia, 122, 193, 212, 256 shudra, 43, 45 Siddhartha, 23 see also Buddha; Buddhism Sikander Lodi, Sultan, 209–10 Sikhism, 263, 265

Silk Road, 70–71 Singh, Manmohan, 33 Sinhalese, 53 Skandagupta, 76, 87 slavery, 153, 184–85 slave trade, 200, 289 Somapura Mahavirahara, 114, 115 Somnath temple, 121, 123–25, 172 Song dynasty, 136 Southeast Asia, and Indianization, 137 spice trade, 201–03 Sri Vijaya, 129, 138 state paternalism, 52 state welfarism, 52 Story of the Malakand Field Force, The, 224 St John the Baptist, 97 Stone Age, 5 Strabo, Greek historian, 6 Sufism, 257, 285 Sui dynasty, 87 Sultan of Hindustan, 155 Sun God, 91 Sunni, 122, 193, 212, 256 Sumer (Iraq), 5, 8 Suryavarman, King, 137 Sutra of Forty-Two Sections, 72 Syrian Church, 64


Taj Mahal, 285–86, 291 Taliban, 87, 225 Tang dynasty, 87 Temple of Solomon, 61 “The Forty”, 157, 163 Theravada Buddhism, 53, 71, 138 Thomas, apostle, 59, 61, 63 Thomas of Cana, 63 Tibetan Buddhism, 114 Timur, 183–84, 209–10, 214–15, 219, 263 Todar Mal, 256, 259 Tomara Rajputs, 143 Tooth Relic Temple, 133 Tripitaka, 23–24, 51 Tughluq dynasty, 181, 185 Tuluva dynasty, 243


Umayyad dynasty, 97, 99 UNESCO, 29, 249 Upanishads, 107 untouchables, 77, 110 Uzbek rebellion, 255–56


vaisha, 43, 45 Vaishavism, 246 Vaishnavite Hinduism, 244 Vajrayana Buddhism, 114 Valley of Blood, 69, 73 Van Twist, Johan, 288 Vardhan dynasty, 88 Vedanta, philosophy, 16, 107–10 Vedas, 15–16, 107 Vedic Age, 15, 18, 106 Vedic civilization, 8, 16–17 Vedic Hinduism, 107 vihara, 115, 131, 136 Vijayalaya, King, 129 Vijayanagar, city of, 241–49


Walid, Caliph, 97, 99, 101–03 wax process, 6 Wells, H.G., 54 When Kings Rode to Delhi, 146 White Horse Monastery, 72 World War II, 9


Xavier, Francis, 204 Xerxes, 33 Xia dynasty, 5 Xiongxu, tribes, 69–70, 72 Xuanzang, monk, 87–92


Yajur Vedas, 15 Yayati, Emperor, 16 Y chromosome, 11 Yuezhi, 69–71


Zamorin, 201–02 Zen Buddhism, 72, 90 Zhang Qian, 70 Zoroastrians, 9


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Reproduced from The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India by Balaji Sadasivan (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at < >

About the Author Dr Balaji Sadasivan was born in Singapore on 11 July 1955, one of six children of Indian immigrants. His father was an accountant and his mother a housewife. He was educated at Raffles Institution, Siglap Secondary School and National Junior College. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Singapore in 1979. While at university, he won an essay competition held by the World Health Organization, which led to a study trip to Minamata, Japan. There, he witnessed the devastating effects of Minamata disease, a neurological syndrome that is caused by severe mercury poisoning. This experience stirred his interest in neurosurgery. He started training in neurosurgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 1981. In 1984, he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Glasgow. He then did his residency in neurosurgery at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit from 1985 to 1989, and was awarded Distinction for his term as Chief Resident. In 1990, he was appointed Fellow in paediatric neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. He was President of the Asian-Australasian Society of Neurological Surgery from 1999-2003. Practising neurosurgery till 2001, he had to his credit more than 50 scientific publications and chapters in books on neurosurgery. Although Dr Sadasivan excelled in medicine, his interests were not limited to it. He wrote a prize-winning full-length play entitled, “A Question of Duty” in 1978 when he was a fourthyear medical student. This was published in 1981. In 1999, he obtained a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) degree from the University of London. He was also a voracious reader, with a particular fascination with history, including the history of India. In 2001, his horizons broadened ever further when he joined politics. He was elected Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC in the Singapore General Election that year. Several ministerial appointments followed: Minister of State in the Ministry of Health (November

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2001 to August 2004), Ministry of the Environment (November 2001 to May 2003) and the Ministry of Transport (May 2003 to August 2004). On 12 August 2004, he was promoted to Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts and the Ministry of Health. On 30 May 2006, he was appointed Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dr Sadasivan was elected to the chairmanship of the World Health Organization’s Executive Board in May 2007. Active in community affairs, Dr Sadasivan was President of the Singapore Indian Education Trust; EXCO President of the Singapore Indian Development Association; Chairman of the Indian Heritage Centre’s Steering Committee; Chairman of the National HIV/AIDs Policy Committee; Member of the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union’s Council of Advisors; Honorary Advisor to the Singapore Furniture Industries Council; Advisor to the People’s Association’s Indian Activity Executive Committee Co-ordinating Council; and Member of the National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony. He played a leading role in the National Art Gallery’s Implementation Steering Committee. Dr Sadasivan was diagnosed with colon cancer and had a tumour removed in 2008. Following a relapse, he died in Singapore on 27 September 2010. He is survived by his wife, Dr Ma Swan Hoo, son, Dharma Yongwen Sadasivan, and daughter, Anita Jiawen Sadasivan. His medical school classmates have set up the Balaji Sadasivan Fund for Needy Medical Undergraduates in his memory. On 23 June 2011, a $35 million Health Endowment Fund set up by Temasek Holdings’ charity arm, Temasek Cares, was named the Balaji Sadasivan Endowment Fund in recognition of his contributions to the healthcare sector.

about the author

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