The book, History of India as told by its Historians, the Muhammadan period, by Sir Henry Miers Elliot makes for fascinating reading. Sir Henry Elliot has put in a lot of hard work and research in collecting rare manuscripts in order to build a linear narrative of Indian history starting with the Arab invasion of Sindh, India in AD 712 till the arrival of British in India. His eight volume work is a must read for all interested in the antiquity of our great country, India.
In the preface of his first volume Sir Henry Elliot exposes the perfidy of our Indian historians who have sung paeans of Muslim rulers from the earliest Turk to the last Mughal. If one peruses our current school books or the badly researched paperbacks of some foreign author masquerading as Indophiles one will be struck by the generosity, compassion and care for general well being that these foreign barbarians showed to the conquered people, the Hindus, that one would think Muslim invasion was the best thing that ever happened to Hindus. But Sir Henry Elliot’s books on the contrary questions, where are the fantastical bridges, public works and network of canals, irrigation projects and tree lined highways, markets and free commerce, security and well being of the population.
Admonishingly Elliot writes…
beyond palaces, porticos, and tombs, there is little worthy of emulation…
…the comfort and happiness of the people were never contemplated by them (the Muslim rulers); and with the exception of a few sarai’s’ and bridges,—and these only on roads traversed by the imperial camps—one can see nothing in which purely selfish considerations did not prevail.
…personal vanity was the main cause of their erection, there is not one which sub serves any purpose of general utility.
Funnily however some of our modern historians of Indian antiquity seem to have placed more faith in a fictional romance written by Thomas Moore called Lalla Rookh. This fictional poem, it seems has become the basis for Indian historians to hail the reign of Jahangir as exemplary. While the truth was somewhat embarrassing.
…sentiments may have been excited by the glowing imagery of Lalla Rookh, -visions of Jahangir’s broad highway from one distant capital to the other, shaded throughout the whole length by stately avenues of trees, and accommodated at short distance with sarais and tanks ; but the scale of that Emperor’s munificence will probably be reduced in his eyes, when he sees it written, that the same work had already been in great measure accomplished by Sher Shah, and that the same merit is also ascribed to a still earlier predecessor (probably a Hindu king); nor will it be an unreasonable reflection, when he finds, except a ruined milestone here and there, no vestige extant of this magnificent highway, and this ” delectable alley of trees,” that, after all, that can have been no very stupendous work, which the resources of three successive Emperors have failed to render a more enduring monument.
So why are we told by our modern historians that the Sultans of Delhi and the Mughals were great builders who built great monuments for public use, comfort and to facilitate trade and commerce.
When he reads of the canals of Firoz Shah Tughlaq and Ali Mardan Khan intersecting the country, he will find on further examination, that even if the former was ever open, it was used only for the palace and hunting park of that monarch…
Elliot uses historical records to prove that there were no irrigation canals built by the Sultans of Delhi for helping the farmer, but we are repeatedly told in our school books that these kings built many canals to benefit the poor farmer. As stated above the canals might have been mere channels that were used to connect the numerous lakes that dotted the Indian country side.
…no mention (of canals) is made of it by any of the historians of Timur, who are very minute in their topographical details, and that Babar exclaims in his memoirs, that in none of the Hindustani Provinces are there any canals (and both these conquerors must have passed over these canals, had they been flowing in their time)
With respect to Ali Mardan Khan, his merits will be less extolled, when it is learnt that his canals were made, not with any view to benefit the public, but for an ostentatious display of his profusion, in order that the hoards of his ill-gotten wealth might not be appropriated by the monarch (Shah of Persia) to whom he betrayed his trust.
Moving further Elliot blows holes into the much touted law and order situation that we are made to believe, prevailed during these times. In many contemporary accounts of Delhi Sultanat and Mughals one often reads in glowing terms the following…
…any traveler might go where he pleased, and that a bag of gold might be exposed on the highways, and no one dare touch it.
How hollow are such claims? One will be surprised to learn that the all powerful Mughal emperors writ did not exist beyond the city gates as Bernier states during his travels in India while Shahjahan ruled.
…in one of the most vigorous reigns, in which internal tranquility was more than ever secured, a caravan was obliged to remain six weeks at Muttra (Mathura), before the parties who accompanied it thought themselves strong enough to proceed to Delhi; that the walls of Agra were too weak too save the city from frequent attacks of marauders.
This is the real condition during the Islamic occupation of India as exposed by someone who had no hidden agenda to sugar coat the facts. Where are the public works and utilities, roads and highways, canals and markets places, running water, drainage and well laid out towns. In hindsight old parts of our cities are a testimony to the above, narrow dingy lanes, open sewers, random construction with no planning or public utilities whatsoever. We will be hard pressed to find a public park or a public water fountain for the thirsty traveler.
India was looted for personal gain and self aggrandizement of the Muslim kings and emperors. What we have are tombs, mausoleums, well laid out private gardens and frivolous fountains, while the common man was left to fend for himself. India was raped and trod under the shoes of barbaric invaders who are now extolled by our secular historians by the likes of Irfan Habib, Romila Thappar, Satish Chandra, Abraham Eraly and their gang of naysayers who write our school books and sundry other essays on the golden era of Muslim occupation. Its about time we change the narrative and retire these old apologist school of historians.
Source: History of India as told by its historians, the Muhammadan period, volume 1 by Sir Henry Miers Elliot
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