This proclamation was published in the Delhi Gazette in the midst of the “Great Mutiny” of 1857. The author was most probably Firoz Shah, a grandson of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–1857), whose restoration to full power was a main aim of the rebels. General disillusionment with the pace of change and the fear that British missionaries were, with government connivance, attempting to Christianize India came to a head among the British East India Company’s sepoy troops. A rumor started that the grease used in the paper cartridges of the Enfield rifle contained both cow and pig fat, an affront to the sensibilities of both Hindus and Muslims. The resulting mutiny (known to Indians as the Great Rebellion or the First War of Independence) resulted in a civil war dominated by mass atrocities—and ultimately in the imposition of the British “Raj,” or direct rule.
Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1483–1530) was born a prince of Fergana in Transoxiana (modern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), a region that had been conquered (briefly) by the army of Alexander the Great in the 320s BCE and more recently by Babur’s ancestor Timur-i Lang, or Tamerlane (r. 1370–1405). Driven from his homeland, Babur conquered neighboring kingdoms and moved south into Afghanistan, capturing Kabul in 1504. By 1519, he stepped up his raids into northern India, and his highly mobile, if vastly outnumbered, army defeated Sultan Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat in 1526. Victory at Panipat was followed by the conquest of the Lodi capital of Agra and further defeats of Hindu leaders in northern India. Babur’s dynasty would become known as the Mughals (from “Mongols”), but his legacy can also be gauged from the success of his memoirs, the Baburnama. Composed and reworked throughout his life, the Baburnama is the first true autobiography in Islamic literature, and it can be read for insights into his own character as well as the military tactics he employed on the battlefield.
The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor, trans. and ed. Wheeler M. Thackston (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 328–329, 330, 331.
The Bhagavad Gita comprises the sixth book, and is the central component, of the Mahabharata. Because it centers on the struggles between kings and princes, the Mahabharata can be read as a reflection of the ideological components of rulership in ancient India. At its center is a power struggle between the descendants of two brothers, culminating in a comprehensive war that ends in the victory of one branch of the family over the other. Elements of philosophy, religion, and moral behavior appear throughout the poem, and the concepts of dharma (natural law, correct behavior) and chaos are introduced by Krishna, the wise sage who appears at critical moments to explain the wider implications of what seems a simple battle narrative. The speakers in the following excerpt are Dhritarâshtra, a blind king in the midst of a succession crisis; Sañgaya, the visionary narrator of the battle; and Arjuna, one of the five sons of Pandu, the Pandava.
The Bhagavadgita, with the Sanatsugatiya and the Anugita, trans. Kashinath Trimbak Telang (Oxford: Clarendon, 1882), 37, 39–41, 42, 73–75, 87–88, and 91.
A diverse set of writings, the Upanishads were thought to convey secret knowledge and serve as the vedanta, or fulfillment, of the Vedic tradition. Among these documents are the Aranyakas (“forest books”), which may have been recited originally by hermits who had retreated to forests. Throughout the Upanishads one can see the full development of the principle of the joining of the individual self (atman, or “soul”) with the brahman, or “world soul”/ “soul essence.”
The Upanishads, vol. 2, trans. F. Max Müller (Oxford: Clarendon, 1884), 100–101 and 103–105.
Calico was a fine printed cotton cloth first imported to England from Calicut, on the western shore of the subcontinent, by the British East India Company. A domestic manufacture of calico-inspired textiles followed, as English artisans attempted to mimic the bright colors, careful weaving, and intricate designs of Indian cloth. This example commemorates Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, a great British naval hero of the Napoleonic Wars and the American War of Independence. Nelson, who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1806, was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral after an elaborate funeral service.
National Maritime Museum, London
Composed in Arabic and translated into Persian in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Chachnama details the Arab conquest of the Sind (a province corresponding to northwest India and Pakistan) in the eighth century. The work details the most successful of the many attempts by Muslims to conquer the region, which was led by Muhammad Ibn Qasim, a cousin of the governor of Iraq. In this history of the campaign, Ibn Qasim is both a conquering hero and a defender of Islam, subduing non-Muslims and imposing new religious values in his wake.
The Chachnamah: An Ancient History of Sind, trans. Mirza Kalichbeg Fredunbeg, available online at http://persian.packhum.org/persian/main?url=pf%3Ffile%3D12701030%26ct%3D0.
Kautilya was a political advisor to the first Mauryan king, Chandragupta Maurya, who in c. 321 BCE. created a vast empire across northern India. Kautilya wrote this treatise to guide Chandragupta and his successors, but his text was influential on subsequent states and empires as well. In this excerpt, Kautilya describes how a village should be organized and run; it reflects the pragmatic approach Kautilya had toward politics in general. Although written later than the other material in this chapter, it is another example of the far reach of Vedic influence.
Translated by R. Shamasastry, 1915.
Mohandas K. Gandhi
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948), also known as the Mahatma (“great soul”), came from an upper-class family in western India. His father was the leading administrator of a small principality in western India under British rule. From his mother he derived his concern with Hindu values, including self-purification, vegetarianism, tolerance, and ahimsa, or non-injury to all living things. He initially sought to follow in his father’s footsteps in the colonial administration, and this led him to London University and a degree in law. But when he returned home to India in 1891, he was unable to find a job, so he accepted a contract with an Indian law firm in Natal, South Africa.
It was while he was in Africa that Gandhi began to formulate his nationalist ideas. Inspired by personal mistreatment—he was thrown out of a first-class train car, barred from certain hotel rooms, and beaten, all because of his nonwhite status—Gandhi blossomed almost overnight into a proficient political campaigner and organizer of the Indian expatriate community in Natal. In 1915, Gandhi returned home to India, where he refashioned the 35-year-old Indian National Congress into an effective instrument of Indian nationalism. This was no easy task, given the ethnic, religious, and caste divisions within Indian society, as well as the full opposition of the colonial British government and military. But Gandhi persevered through victories and defeats until Britain formally granted independence to the two new dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947.
The best and earliest expression of Gandhi’s redefined India comes from Hind Swaraj (Self-Rule), published in 1909. Here Gandhi employs the form of a dialogue between a fictional Reader (the voice of Gandhi) and an Editor to put forward his ideas. Written while Gandhi was still in South Africa, it anticipates the philosophy and course of action that he was to follow in India. Arguing against those reformers whom he believed had too narrow a definition of self-rule, Gandhi asserted that real hind swaraj must include not only political autonomy but also a reassertion of Indian pride and culture and a reborn sense of identity.
Mohandas Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, ed. Jitendra Desai (Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Publishing House, 1938), 29–30, 45–47, 55–58, 66–69.
Harsha Vardhana, one of the better known monarchs of India, controlled a wide swath of territory in the northern subcontinent between 606 and 647 CE. Harsha was visited during his reign by the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuan Zang, who described his court and government, and the poet Bana wrote a biography of the king called the Harshacarita. However, Harsha himself also wrote at least three plays, two of which were dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and incorporated actual incidents from his court. While the plays are ostensibly fictional, the scene below draws on a real event, reported by Xuan Zang, in which Harsha saved an image of Buddha from a fire that had broken out in his palace. His plays reflect the cosmopolitan and religiously eclectic nature of his court, as well as his view of the status of the advisors and women in his orbit.
Harsha Vardhana, The Lady of the Jewel Necklace, trans. Wendy Doniger (New York: NYU Press, 2006), 259–265.
Ram Mohun Roy
By 1818 the British East India Company’s initially opportunistic establishment of territorial footholds in India’s Bengal and Madras provinces had become a London-sponsored imperial project governing 40 million people and controlling revenues valued at one-third those of the British government at home. Within three more decades, British direct rule would expand into upper Burma, the northwestern provinces of Punjab and Sind, and greater portions of the subcontinent’s interior. Some of India’s traditional rulers were allowed semiautonomy in “princely states” in return for welcoming British advisers and troops. But it was increasingly clear that possession of India, where British rule was known simply as the Raj (rule), was what made tiny Britain the global superpower of the nineteenth century.
Raja Ram Mohun Roy (1772–1833) witnessed this transformation during his lifetime. Born to a Bengalese Brahmin family, he was an extraordinary linguist, scholar, educator, publisher, and civil servant. Roy was especially concerned with the ways that Western knowledge could be applied to India’s mixed Hindu and Islamic culture. Curious and optimistic, he hoped that British rule might bring a “milder, more enlightened and more liberal” era to the subcontinent. East India Company administrators and British governors shared this hope. As pressures to open India’s trade to rival businesses reduced the Company’s role in commodity trade, ambitious plans to “westernize” Indian society took the place of the former mercantile activity. Indians such as Roy encouraged the government’s efforts to abolish widow burning, female infanticide, and the religious cult of spiritual murderers called Thugs.
In the following selection, Roy explains to the British Governor General Lord Amherst why he opposes the creation of a government-sponsored school for the scholarly study of Sanskrit, the ancient Indo-European language in which Hinduism’s sacred literature was written. Roy anticipated what many historians now believe did occur: that by codifying Indian beliefs and social practices, British rulers actually fostered traditionalism, as they declared to be timeless and immutable aspects of belief that had previously been fluid and adaptable. Doing so justified their own role as introducers of “the modern” and made it more difficult for Indians to adopt new technology, law, and social relations in their own way. In the end the Sanskrit school was established next to the Hindu College Roy, founded in Calcutta to educate sons of prosperous Bengali families according to a western curriculum.
Rammohun Roy, The English Works of Rammohun Roy (Allahabad: Panini Office, 1906), 471–74.
Muhammad Dara Shikuh
The eldest son of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, Dara Shikuh was defeated by his younger brother in a struggle for power in 1658. The victorious brother, Muhiuddin, ruled as the Emperor Aurangzeb, and he had Dara declared, by a court of nobles and clergy, an apostate from Islam and assassinated in 1659. Dara left behind a remarkable series of writings, advocating an enlightened program of harmonizing the various, bitterly opposed religions of the subcontinent. He had developed friendships with Sikhs, followed a Persian mystic, and completed a translation of 50 Upanishads from their original Sanskrit into Persian in 1657. His most famous work, the Majma-ul-Bahrain (The Mingling of Two Oceans), addressed the overlapping ideas of Hindu and Muslim mysticism. His attempt to combine the traditions into a coherent whole may have been rejected by his fervently Muslim brother, but he also represents a strain of ecumenical thought within the Mughal Empire.
Muhammad Dara Shikuh, The Mingling of Two Oceans, trans. and ed. M. Mafuz ul-Haq (Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1929), 50–53.
Chitta Ranjan Das
Chitta Ranjan Das was an Indian nationalist politician, and leader of the Swaraj (Independence) Party in Bengal, during British rule in India. Although educated in England, he returned to India to play a major role in the independence movement, including such episodes as the “Non-Cooperation” movement of 1919–1920. Like the better-known Gandhi, Das was a believer in nonviolence and was trained as a lawyer, perhaps influencing his constitutionalist approach to independence. Along with pacifism he also saw Muslim–Hindu cooperation as an essential element of Indian independence and national success. It was at the Gaya meeting in 1922 that he formed the Swaraj Party, having lost a motion to Gandhi’s faction. In this excerpt from his speech, Das discusses how Indian nationalism must not copy the aggressive, competitive nationalism of Europe, but must find its place in a greater Humanity of which it is a part.
From Presidential Address of Chitta Ranjan Das, Indian National Congress at
Gaya, December 1922. An appendix to P. C. Ray, Life and Times of C. R. Das/ Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1927, pp. 261–74 (extracts).
The Mughal emperor Akbar ruled northern India, including large parts of present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh, from 1556 to 1605,and he is generally considered one of the greatest rulers of India. The founder of the dynasty, Babur (reigned 1526–1530), and his followers were Muslim Turks from central Asia, who had been driven from their homes by invaders. Called Mughals, because they were mistakenly identified with the Mongols, they were militarily very sophisticated, employing both matchlockmen and field artillery. They needed all that sophistication to hold onto their newly won territory. Akbar’s father succeeded Babur after his death. He first lost the territory, then won it back just 0a year before he died.
Though illiterate, Akbar developed a deep knowledge of Hindu and Muslim cultures by having important texts read to him daily. He also sponsored artistic creation and was especially interested in information about different religions. The debates he sponsored among religious scholars apparently distanced him from any of the established religions. He attempted to create a syncretic religion called Din-i Ilahi, based on worship of the sun and light, that he believed could unify Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and others. Characteristically, Akbar never attempted to force anyone to convert to his religion.
The source included here establishes the political ideal of a leader, as elaborated by a Muslim historian of northern India. Zi¯aud-d¯ın Barn¯ı (1285–1358) came from a prominent aristocratic family of Indian Muslims. He was a close associate of a sultan of Delhi, but he fell from favor after that sultan’s death in 1351, and he was arrested and sent into permanent exile. In 1358, he wrote the work Rulings on Temporal Government (Fat¯awa-yi-Jah¯and¯ari), hoping thereby to return to the sultan’s favor. It presents his understanding, formulated from an orthodox Sunni Muslim perspective, of how the ideal ruler should govern.
“Rulings on Temporal Government,” in Sources of Indian Tradition, William Theodore de Bary, Stephen N. Hay, Royal Weiler, and Andrew Yarrow, eds., 503–04. Copyright © 1959 Columbia University Press.
The third of the Mauryan kings, Ashoka ruled a vast empire throughout the Indian subcontinent in the period 273–231 BCE. His abrupt conversion to Buddhism in 260 led him to govern according to Buddhist principles—at least as he understood them. His new policies with respect to “righteous” governance were posted in a series of edicts that were engraved on rocks and pillars at strategic spots in his empire. A sample of these contains both very specific injunctions—imposed upon himself and upon his subordinates—and general principles, which could presumably be adapted to changing real-world circumstances.
Ven S. Dhammika, trans. DharmaNet, 1994, http://www.cs.colostate.edu/~malaiya/ashoka.html#PILLAR.
George Orwell is the pen name of Eric Blair (1903–1950), one of the most important writers in the English language during the twentieth century. Orwell is famous for two widely read novels, Animal Farm (1946) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), in which he pilloried modern totalitarian governments whose suave claims to act in the name of “the people” could not disguise their unprecedented intrusion into the private lives of citizens. But Orwell deserves to be well known for his investigative reporting and prose essays of the interwar period as well. After World War I he worked as a police officer in Burma (modern Myanmar), lived the life of homeless and subsistence workers in Paris and London, explored the hardships of Welsh coal miners, and fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1938). His writing about these experiences, along with criticism and political commentary, is distinctive for its clarity and vivid detail and for the unsentimental decency with which he addressed the realities of life for ordinary people.
ii Orwell was educated, not very happily, at boarding schools in England. Rather than go to university he joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma for five years in the 1920s. The experience produced his novel Burmese Days (1934) and the essay reprinted here. Britain fought three wars in the Victorian era (1824–1826, 1852, 1885) to bring the ancient Burmese kingdoms under its control. Even after annexation to the Raj, village resistance and jungle insurgency taxed the authorities’ ability to police the countryside. Very few Europeans wished to settle in Burma for long. Those who did tended to be employees of distant firms attempting to establish rubber plantations in the drier zones of upper Burma. As Burmese Days reveals, British soldiers, police, minor civil servants, and businessmen, with a handful of family members, secluded themselves as much as possible from native life. Those any distance from the cultural life of the capital city experienced long periods of discomfort, tedium, and frustration, unalleviated by much sense that they were bringing progress or prosperity to those they ruled.
George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays, 3–12. Copyright © 1950 by Harcourt, Inc.
Because there are very few sources of information on the history of Vietnam before the Li dynasty (1010–1225), Chinese dynastic histories and Chinese poetry are indispensable sources. They are valuable even when, as in this case, they were composed by those on the other side of conflict with Vietnamese insurgents. P‘i Jih-hsiu was a prominent Tang poet of the late ninth century, and he was particularly drawn to the Mencian notion that the people have the right to revolt if their country is being mismanaged. While traveling through the country in 865, he stopped in the city of Hsü, from which 2,000 men had been drafted for the Tang army and sent to fight Nan-chao in Vietnam. These soldiers were probably lost when Nan-chao defeated the Chinese forces in Vietnam in early 863, and news of their defeat apparently reached Hsü while Jih-hsiu was there.
Keith Weller Taylor, The Birth of Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 345–346.
Ho Chi Minh (Nguyen Ai Quoc)
In September 1945, the same month that World War II officially ended, Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) declared both Vietnamese independence and the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Ho, the head of the Vietminh (the League for the Independence of Vietnam), was both a Communist and the main leader of the Vietnamese nationalist, anticolonial movement. Ho had been raised in a pro-independence family, and he actually tried to present a petition for Vietnamese independence to President Woodrow Wilson in Paris in 1919. Rebuffed by the West, Ho turned to Communism and the Soviet Union, where he trained as a revolutionary in the 1920s. Having worked in the 1920s and 1930s as a revolutionary organizer in China and Moscow, Ho returned to Vietnam with the outbreak of World War II. There he established the Vietminh and cooperated, especially with American intelligence agents, in the war against the Japanese. The Japanese had ruled Indochina through the remaining French colonial authorities up to the very end of the war, when they set up direct Japanese rule. Thus, when the Japanese forces withdrew, there was no established government in Vietnam. Ho took advantage of this vacuum to proclaim the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence (1945), hoping that the United States would support his cause.
Ho Chi Minh, Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in On Revolution, ed. Bernard B. Fall, 143–45. Copyright © 1967 by Praeger Publishers.