The Natural HR Theory by Dr IVNS Raju

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XIV

The empire was still far from commensurate with its ruler’s ambition. All the great region to the south was outside his sway, and to the north and west there were kingdoms that he coveted.

It was to Kashmir and Sind that he first turned his attention. Kashmir was annexed. But not without grievous losses. The emperor no longer conducted his campaigns himself; and it was a weakness in him as a ruler that he did not always choose his lieutenants wisely. The three generals sent on this campaign quarrelled, as was not unnatural; for one of them was Birbal, an intimate and trusted friend of Akbar’s, it is true, but a musician, a poet, a jester, rather than a soldier or commander. An ill-advised march resulted in a surprise attack in a mountain pass. Akbar could bear the loss of eight thousand men more calmly than the loss of Birbal, who was killed in the engagement: Birbal, his dear Birbal, his merry companion, whose voice, as he talked or sang in the evenings verses of his own composing, was still in his ears; Birbal, for whom he had built so beautiful a house at Fatehpur Sikri: Birbal, the one Hindu who had embraced the emperor’s new religion of the Divine Faith. But Akbar was now coming to that time of life when the friends of man’s youth begin to die, and he has to bear the blows of Time as best he may.

Kashmir was subdued, and in the spring of 1589 Akbar left Lahore and arrived at Srinagar; thence he moved to Kabul, and there learned of two other deaths which touched him nearly: the death of Bhagwan Das, the first of the Rajput princes to join the Mogul, the brave soldier who had fought side by side with Akbar at Chitor and in Gujerat: and the death of Todar Mall, the simple clerk who rose to be prime minister and was one of Akbar’s most trusted generals.

With the annexation of Sind in 1591 by a campaign conducted by that able son of the Protector Bairam Khan, Abdurrahim, whom Akbar had welcomed and cherished as a child after the death of his father, the schemes of conquest were for the time completed. In the following year Orissa in the east was annexed. Four years later, Baluchistan and Kandahar were added to the empire.

The Deccan remained. The emperor may well have thought that the prestige of his name was now so formidable that the rulers of the Southern Kingdoms would acknowledge his suzerainty without the laborious efforts of protracted campaigns; and it has been thought that his real aim was not so much the subjugation of those regions as the securing of a vantage point from which to proceed against the Portuguese and drive them from their settlements on the coast. He was now again in touch with the Portuguese; for at his request a second Jesuit mission arrived at the court in 1591, and though this was abortive, he succeeded in persuading the third mission to be sent three years later. The head of this third mission, Father Jerome Xavier, was to remain at court, with Akbar and with his successor, for no less than twenty three years, and to enjoy as much familiarity with the emperor as Aquaviva and Monserrate. But hardly the same trust and friendship. Aquaviva and Monserrate were honest and devoted men to whom the cause of Christianity among the infidels was everything. The later Jesuit envoys were perhaps equally zealous; but with their zeal for the faith was mingled a keen sense for political and commercial advantage. In the end all three missions failed of their first object, the emperor’s conversion.

Akbar’s opening move in his designs on the Deccan was to send four envoys to the four kingdoms or sultanates with which he would first have to deal. The most important of them, from his point of view, as being the most accessible, were Khandesh, of which Burhanpur was the capital, and Ahmadnagar.

When the envoys returned, after a prolonged absence, their news was not favourable. The fact that the ruler of Ahmadnagar sent a meager and inadequate present was considered a sufficient motive for declaring war. Abdurrahim, the conqueror of Sind, was appointed general; but unfortunately there was associated with him in joint command the young price Murad: and inevitable quarrels ensued. Murad, whose intelligence and docility as a boy had so impressed his tutor, Monserrate, was already beginning to be enslaved to drink and drugs. It was the family vice. Babur had indulged in long bouts of drunkenness – the sight of a field of flowers or a beautiful sunset was an excuse for celebrating his joy in it – though his strong will enabled him to forswear drink altogether at need. Humayun had sapped his constitution by opium. Even Akbar was sometimes stupefied by opiate drinks, though he never allowed the vice to be his master: but all his three sons were drunkards.

Siege was laid to Ahmadnagar, which was defended by Chand Bibi as regent, one of the heroic women who, like Durgavati, the first victim of Akbar’s ambition, shine out in Indian history. (Chand Bibi hawking in the plains is a favourite subject of the Indian painters.) And so successful was the defence that the Moguls were compelled to accepted terms quite unworthy of the imperial prestige: the treaty was signed early in 1596. In the following year Murad was superseded in his command.

Meanwhile Akbar remained at Lahore, grievously disappointed with the failure of his second son, and now beginning to be yet more disturbed by the insubordinate attitude of his eldest, Prince Salim. There were other troubles. For three years a terrible famine, followed by plague, devastated the whole of Northern India. So accustomed was the country to these periodic visitations, so resigned its inhabitants, that the famine is but casually noticed by native historians. The roads were blocked with dead bodies; men were reduced to eating their own kind. Relief measures were undertaken, but were quite inadequate to the famine’s vast extent.

The Fathers doubtless decided that such calamities were judgments of Heaven on the emperor for his failure to listen whole-heartedly to their counsels; they found some consolation in baptizing all the abandoned infants they could find.

They record with still more satisfaction a disaster that seemed to be a personal chastisement of the emperor by the wrath of God. For on Easter Day, 1597, there was a sudden fire at Lahore where Akbar was celebrating the festival of the sun. A great part of the palace was consumed, with its treasure and costly furniture, so that the molten gold and silver streamed into the streets.

While the palace was rebuilding, Akbar retired to Kashmir, taking with him Jerome Xavier and one of his companions; they were enchanted with the climate of the hills, the flowering trees and the verdure, the orchards, springs, and streams.

But by now things were going so ill in the Deccan that the presence of the emperor was needed if they were not to end in an ignominious failure.

In May 1599 Price Murad died of delirum tremens. In July Akbar left Prince Salim in-charge of Agra and began to move south. In the following year he occupied Burhanpur. Prince Duniyal was ordered to take the city of Ahmadnagar, hithereto so bravely and effectively defended by Chand Bibi. But internal discussions now arose among the besieged: Chand Bibi was murdered by an insurgent mob or perhaps forced to take poison: and in August 1600 the town was taken. So far the young Daniyal seemed to promise well: and Akbar destined him to be the future ruler of the conquered Deccan. But Murad had shown equal promise, and Daniyal was to go the way of Murad. Moreover, the Deccan was not yet conquered.

The country of Khandesh trusted to its great fortress of Asirgarh. Asigarh was famous as the strongest and most formidable fortress in all India, probably in the whole world. It was imperative that it should be taken, for it commanded the pass and high road between the Deccan and Hindostan. But how? The natural strength of Asirgarh was enormous. Rising nine hundred feet above the plain, the huge mass of rock was enclosed by a triple line of fortifications. The plateau on the summit, a space of sixty acres, contained an unfailing supply of water from wells and reservoirs. There were stocks of provisions calculated to support the garrison for ten years, although, according to Abul Fazl, 34,000 persons marched out from the gates at the final capitulation, and 25,000 the gates at the final capitulation, and 25,000 had died of pestilence during the siege. These figures are surely exaggerations. Except in two places Asirgarh was surrounded by sheer cliffs. The methods employed at Chitor, the approach by sap and mine, were useless here. And while the Mogul artillery was weak, the defenders had vast reserves of ammunition for their thirteen hundred guns; and, moreover, the officers of the gunners were Portuguese.

The siege began in April under the command of Abul Fazl; but it was soon made apparent that little progress would be made by direct attack. A singular custom prevailed in Asirgarh that seven princes of the royal blood should always dwell there, ready to assume the kingship in turn. The present king was called Bahadur. But the commander of the defences was, strange to say, an Abyssinian, now old and going blind but of an heroic temper and firm will. In May, Bahadur offered terms to the besiegers, but they were not acceptable, and were refused.

The story of the capture of Asirgarh is obscure. The events are recorded by Abul Fazl, who was in command of the siege, and by the French author Du Jarric, who founded his narrative on Jesuit accounts. Jerome Xavier was present at the siege, so it is natural to think tht his notes were used. Yet the two accounts are impossible to reconcile. Vincent Smith takes Du Jarric’s story as literally true; but Mr. Payne, the English editor of Du Jarric, shows that Vincent Sminth’s accusations of falsehood on the part of Abul Fazl and other native historians are largely unfounded. Was there a pestilence destroying thousands of the defenders? It is not even mentioned by Du Jarric, but it could hardly have been an entire invention. Whether on account of this calamity or of the capture in November of a fort commanding the main defences, or of both, Bahadur was disheartened and sent an envoy to Abul Fazl, who sent him on to Akbar. Further negotiations brought a young man, Muqarrab Khan, the son of the Abyssinian governor, down to the camp, offering that if the fortress and country were restored and prisoners released, Bahdur would submit. These terms were granted. Bahadur then asked that Aziz Koka should take his hand and escort him to the emperor’s presence. Bahadur came down and prostrated himself. Once in Akbar’s hands, he was not allowed to return.

But the fort was not yet taken, and the old Abyssinian governor was in no mood to yield. Akbar, however, was impatient. The news he had of Prince Salim at Agra was disturbing; his presence was urgently needed in the north. He had sounded the Jesuits as to the possibility of getting artillery from the Portuguese, but they had refused to help him. Since heavy guns were wanting, he was obliged to fall back on bribery. Assiduous bribing had its effect; most of the defenders were won over. In vain the old Abyssinian assembled all the princes of the royal blood and asked which of them would accept the throne and defend the honour of his fathers. Not one answered. ‘Would to God you were women!’ he cried. Just then Muqarrab came up from the camp with a message from Akbar. His father turned on him : ‘May God not show me thy face! Go down to Bahadur and follow him!” The young man, overcome with shame, went back to the camp, and in the presence of Abul Fazl and the Mogul chiefs stabbed himself in the belly and died. The old man, his father, seeing that there was no more hope, bathed, had his shroud brought him, distributed alms, and took poison. The defenders, having got their gold, decided to open the gates; but first they stipulated that they should have a letter from Bahadur approving their action, to cover their disgrace. Bahadur was forced to consent. In the early days of 1601 the keys of this impregnable fortress were surrendered.

The lives of the garrison were spared. It is somewhat amusing to read that Akbar was greatly angered when the Portuguese officers of artillery confessed that they had become Muhammadans. He abused them as apostates. It was Xavier who interceded for them, and before long had succeded in reconverting them to Christianity.

Asirgarh had been taken, but the method of its capture could not redound to Akbar’s glory. The grand scheme of subduing the Deccan was indeed to prove abortive: his career of conquest had reached its term.

 

 

 

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