India: Peeps at History - Beatrice Home

The Empire of the Moghuls

At last the Sultan of Delhi became so cruel and tyrannical that the provinces of Oudh, Behar, and the Punjab revolted, and sent messengers to Kabul asking Baber, the Moghul prince, to come down and help them.

Now Baber was not a man to waste any time. His army was ready to move, and without a moment's delay he advanced through the mountains and crossed the Indus. But the Sultan of Delhi had not been idle. He assembled a great army and, marching against Baber, met him at Panipat. Babar's army was not a large one, but he himself was the most skilful general of that time, and in the great battle which followed he completely shattered the army of the Delhi tyrant.

Then the people, who had asked for his help, finding they had nothing more to fear, were anxious that he should return to his own country. But this did not suit Baber at all. He had come to India, and there he meant to stay. Although his army was only a small one, he was a leader like our First and Third Edwards or Henry V, and inspired his men with so much courage and confidence that they were able to fight and overcome enemies far more numerous, as our forefathers did at Crecy, Poictiers, and Agincourt.

So, although the Mohammedan princes and generals who had called him into India collected armies and tried to drive him back to Kabul, Baber defeated them all, and at last they were glad to submit and accept him as their ruler. It was easier for them to do this because, not only was Baber a Mussulman like themselves, but he was not a cruel or oppressive tyrant. In fact, it may be said that there was no better man amongst the leaders of that day.

All that we know of him is picturesque, romantic, and fascinating. He was a poet as well as a soldier, cheerful in times of trouble, and generous in prosperity. He delighted in adventure and deeds of daring, and at the same time he enjoyed the society of men of wit and wisdom. We have been able to learn a good deal of the times in which he lived from the writings of Baber himself.

But although he succeeded in holding the throne during his lifetime, when he died, in 1530, his son Humayun was faced by a revolution which, after hard fighting, compelled him to fly back to Kabul, where he remained for over twenty years. Meanwhile the throne of Delhi was seized by Sher Khan, a cruel but capable leader, who ruled well for six years, erecting many fine public buildings and improving the country with excellent roads.

He was killed by an explosion when besieging a town in 1545, and only ten years later, when his grandson was on the throne, Humayun came back with an army from Kabul. He defeated the Sher family at the battle of Sarhind, and once more sat upon the throne which his father, Baber, had won. His time, however, had come, for very shortly afterwards he fell over the marble staircase in the palace at Delhi and was killed on the spot.

But the empire of the Moghuls had returned to power, and Akbar, the greatest of that famous line, ascended the throne at the age of thirteen in the year 1556. This was two years before the reign of Elizabeth in England. Forty-nine years he reigned in India, and died in 1605, just two years after the great English queen. For another hundred years the great empire of the Moghuls lasted, a hundred and forty-nine years in all, or a hundred and seventy-nine if we reckon from the coming of Baber in 1526.

It was the glory of Akbar that he was no mere Eastern tyrant holding his throne by the strength of his armies, but the real creator of a great and majestic empire, the only native one that India has ever known. Although his successors greatly increased the splendours of the empire, yet Akbar in a special degree deserves to be considered the greatest of them all. For under him, as never happened again until under English rule, men of all races and religions were treated with equal fairness and justice, and as long as they did not rebel could enjoy their possessions in peace.

[Illustration] from Peeps at History - India by Beatrice Home


Coming to the throne as a boy, he found himself under the guardianship of an able but arrogant old statesman called Bairam, who never let him out of his sight. But Akbar, although only thirteen, was extremely crafty, and while he pretended to be only a quiet, modest boy, he was watching for an opportunity to give Bairam the slip. So one day he said that his mother was ill, and he must ride off to see her. Instead, however, of going to his mother, he galloped away to the army where he had friends, and with the help of these he announced his intention of ruling henceforth by himself. This was the end of Bairam, although he tried to cause a rebellion; but Akbar, generous as he always was, treated his old guardian with the greatest consideration.

We need not dwell on the wars which Akbar undertook. He extended his dominions on all sides, and by the time he was fifty all Hindostan, together with what we now call Afghanistan, formed one great and well-organised empire bound together not so much by the might of Akbar's armies as by just government and equal rights for all men. The Hindus were no longer treated as an inferior race or made to pay taxes which Mohammedans escaped. Not only were all taxed alike, but Hindus received high offices in the State. Their religion was respected and laws were made for their protection.

One of Akbar's greatest triumphs was in turning the Rajputs from bitter enemies into firm and faithful friends. They had always been at war with the former Sultans of Delhi, and they resisted Akbar fiercely to begin with, but at last they were completely won over by his generous offers of fair treatment. Nor were they disappointed, for they found themselves no longer oppressed by greedy and tyrannical governors, but made princes of the empire with high rank and office.

And so it came about in one of Akbar's wars that on a battle day, when he nearly met his end in a narrow lane, it was two Rajput princes who placed themselves on either side of him, and guarded his head as they fought their way through their enemies.

The truth is that Akbar, like his grandfather Baber, was not a strict Mohammedan. He was a philosopher-king who loved to know something about all religions. So, although on one occasion, to please his stricter Mohammedan subjects, Akbar made a pilgrimage of two hundred miles on foot to a great Mohammedan mosque or church, very many of them were angry with him, and disapproved of his treating the Hindus as well as the Mohammedan people.

But being a man of great and noble mind, he cared nothing for what these smaller men thought or said. And it was because he was more just, humane, and generous than all other men were in those days that he was able to found a great empire which lasted for one hundred and forty-nine years. Then it fell, because Arunzeb, the last of the Moghuls, deserted the ways of his great-grandfather and oppressed all who were not of the Mohammedan religion.

The story of Akbar and how he established the Moghul Empire is of especial interest to English people, because their rule in India is founded on the same principles of justice and good government as was Akbar's. And although we, like him, have to face a good deal of discontent, because there are always some people who want more than they have got, yet the only periods of really just government which India has ever known are the reign of Akbar the Great and the rule of Britain.