When he became emperor in 1658, Aurangzeb attempted a radical “Islamification” of Mughal India, imposing a strict interpretation of Sharia law and implementing reforms that he thought would benefit Muslims more than adherents of other religions. Repudiating his great-grandfather Akbar’s vision of religious transcendence and harmony, while Aurangzeb stopped short of forcible conversion, he offered incentives to non-Muslims to convert, destroyed many of their temples, and reimposed the hated jizya tax. This tax on Hindus had been abolished by Akbar in 1564, and its reinstatement by Aurangzeb in 1679 triggered mass protests and violent reactions from authorities in the many cities. Revolts among Sikhs and among Hindus left the Mughal Empire weakened and in decline by the time of Aurangzeb’s death in 1707. An excerpt from his proscriptions is offered below.
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
Indian writer Arundhati Roy (b. 1961) won the Man Booker Prize for her brilliant novel The God of Small Things (1997), but she is better known today for her speaking and writing on political causes. A strong advocate for the rights of lower-caste people in Indian society, she has extended her concern to matters of Indian domestic and foreign policy, protesting in particular the speed and direction of globalization in her own and in other countries. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Roy has continued her criticism of global capitalism and has often come into conflict with the Indian government and leading figures in the Indian business world.
Arundhati Roy, “Capitalism: A Ghost Story,” Outlook India, March 26, 2012, available online at http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?280234.
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.
Sometimes described as the Shakespeare of India, Kālidāsa mastered various literary genres in his lifetime and continued to thrive, even in Western translations, into modern times. He composed three plays, two epic poems, and a series of shorter poems. Among these is the Meghadūta, or The Cloud Messenger, in which a man asks a passing cloud to carry a message to his beloved wife, who is awaiting him in the Himalayas. Translated from the Sanskrit into English in the early nineteenth century, The Cloud Messenger served as the inspiration for composer Gustav Holsts 19091910 choral work The Cloud Messenger.
The Code of Manu deals with many different features of Hindu life, such as the proper behavior of different castes and methods for ritual purification. The “Manu” referred to in the title is the legendary “first man” of Hindu culture, also recognized as the first lawgiver. Thus, the Code of Manu is thought of within Hinduism as a text based on human traditions (smriti), but it is also believed to be consistent with the values included in texts that are divinely revealed (shruti), such as the “Purusha Hymn.” As a result, it restates and reaffirms traditional values and structures, but it does so on the basis of religious authority.
The responsibilities described for women in the Code of Manu need to be understood within the context of Hinduism. A central component of Hinduism is the concept of dharma (“that which is firm”). Hindus believe that by living up to the religious and social responsibilities attached to one’s social position (caste and gender), one sustains the proper order of the universe and gains good karma, moving up the scale of reincarnation toward unity with the brahman, or World Soul. Composed following a period of unrest, the Code of Manu represents a vigorous attempt to reestablish order within the Hindu world.
The Law of Manu, in The Sacred Books of the East, vol. 25, trans. G. Bühler (Oxford: Clarendon, 1886), 194–197, 328–330, 332, 335, 344–345.
Akbar the Great was Mughal emperor from 1556 until his death in 1605. One of the main sources we have of Akbar is a commentary written by a Portugese Jesuit, whom Akbar had invited to his court to explain Christianity. Akbar the Great was Mughal emperor from 1556 until his death in 1605. Father Antonio Monserrate (1536–1600) was thought to be a humble, God-fearing man. He was chosen as part of a mission sent in 1578 at Akbar’s request to instruct him about Roman Catholicism, and he remained in India till 1589. An indication of Akbar’s opinion of him is that he asked Monserrate to serve as tutor to the crown prince. The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, was a Catholic religious order that sought to recapture areas lost to the Reformation and to spread Catholicism to areas that had not benefited, as they saw it, from exposure to the true faith. Like many early Jesuits, Father Antonio Monserrate was intelligent and intense. He accompanied Akbar on some of his campaigns and enjoyed discussing religion and ideas with him. Fortunately, from the point of view of the historical record, Monserrate was instructed by his Jesuit superiors to keep a written account of his experiences, which he did in the form of a diary. Later, he compiled a general account that is the best European appraisal of Akbar. He affords us glimpses of Akbar’s enduring interest in religion, and he also provides us with a general characterization of the man and his rule.
The Commentary of Father Monserrate, S. J. On his Journey to the Court of Akbar, trans. from Latin by J. S. Hoyland and annotated by S. N. Banerjee (London and Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1922), 196–211.
Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner
Two wives of British colonial agents in India compiled their experiences in this practical guide for new “memsahibs” (Indian term of respect for married, upper-class white women) in British-controlled India. Flora Annie Steel (1847–1929) and Grace Gardiner share advice that is often humorous or outrageous as well as sophisticated. The work, called the “Mrs. Beeton of British India” (Document 18.4), attempts to maintain “British standards” in a country of unfamiliar food products, extreme heat, and different cultural expectations. This selection guides a wife through what may seem like shocking changes—occasionally revealing a rather haughty tinge of colonialist superiority.
From Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner, Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 6, 11–5, 55–62.
This head, crafted from copper alloy, is all that remains of an impressive image found in central Vietnam. It depicts the Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of Buddhist compassion, and the Amitabha Buddha is perched on the crown. It points to the emergence of a pan–southeast Asian bodhisattva type in the eighth and ninth centuries, as well as to the superb metal-casting skills of artisans in the Cham territories of Vietnam.
Photo: Thierry Ollivier. © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY
This remarkable account of a merchant’s travels throughout Eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and India resulted from the singular obsession of a monk in retirement. Determined to prove that a proper understanding of earth’s geography would confirm God’s creation—and that the earth was a flat, oblong table surrounded by the ocean—the monk Cosmas reflected back on his extensive voyages, which had probably been undertaken to further a spice-import business. Cosmas commented on the trading practices of the Aksumites and on their wealthy culture, providing one of the few outsider glimpses of Aksum that are now available.
Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christianike Topographia, Book 3, trans. and ed. Christopher Haas, Villanova University; available online: http://www29.homepage.villanova.edu/christopher.haas/cosmas_indicopleustes.htm<
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.
Muhammad Ghawth Gwaliori
In sixteenth-century Hindustan, the Sufi mystic Muhammad Ghawth claimed to have experienced an astounding ascension through multiple heavenly spheres up to the throne of God. This intensely personal experience, which he underwent in his 20s, occurred within a volatile political and social context. Born around 1501, Ghawth left home at age 12 to further his religious education and to undertake a series of mystic initiations that prepared him for his ascension in 1526. Ghawth lived during the rule of Humayun, when Mughal control was still tentative, and Akbar was still a young man. After his mystical experiences made him famous, Ghawth was seen as a spiritual support for the Mughal regime. When Humayun fell from power in 1540, Ghawth was persecuted by a group of Afghan warlords who followed a more orthodox form of Islam and attacked the reality—as well as the political implications—of his mystical experiences.
Excerpts from Scott A. Kugle, “Heaven’s Witness: The Uses and Abuses of Muhammad Ghawth’s Mystical Ascension,” Journal of Islamic Studies 14 (2003): 17–20.
World Economic Forum
The Global Gender Gap Report was introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 to analyze disparities between genders in a worldwide context. It assesses national gender gaps in political, economic, health, and education-related areas and ranks countries according to data, allowing comparisons across regions, time, and income groups. According to the report’s introduction, these rankings “are designed to create greater awareness among a global audience of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them.” This excerpt looks at women’s impact on economic growth through increased education, participation in the labor force, and women’s role as consumers, or the “power of the purse.”
From “The Global Gender Gap,” World Economic Forum, 2010. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2010.pdf (downloaded November 20, 2012).
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.
The Rig Veda is the oldest of the Vedic texts, and consists of 1028 hymns. It was transmitted orally for centuries, and probably assumed its present shape c. 1200 BCE. There are three other Vedas, two of which contain material from the Rig Veda, thus making the Rig Veda the foundational text for the entire Vedic tradition and its successors, including Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Most of the hymns in the Rig Veda relate to the rituals of the Aryan religion, although a few explore more theoretical questions “Purusha” can be translated as “cosmic giant”.
From Sources of Indian Tradition. Theodore de Bary, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.
The worship of Agni, as the fire principle animating a burnt offering to the gods, features prominently in the Rig-Veda. The voice of Agni was thought be heard in the crackling of the fire beneath a sacrifice, and it was a crucial element of Vedic tradition that the priest perform the ritual correctly. Fire was conflated with the emanations of the sun, and the priestly varna, or caste, was thought to be the community’s best representative to the god.
The Hymns of the Rigveda, trans. Ralph T. H. Griffith (Benares: E. J. Lazarus, 1889), 333–338.