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three great Asiatic empires which were founded on the soil of India between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, and which mark the rise and decay of three great and distinct nationalities—the Mogul, Mahratta and Sikh-I desire to draw from the most stirring pages of the history of India, and especially from the political aspects of that period, a study and a contrast which, I think, will possibly not be devoid of interest. It may be I have nothing new to state, and that some have studied the historical periods embraced within this paper more thoroughly and minutely than I can claim to have done myself. But there is a fascination at times in even rehearing what is old, in recalling the stirring events of a bygone age, and in listening once again to the deeds and prowess of some favourite hero or heroine, and in comparing or contrasting the same with the story of some other national character, who in like manner may have built an empire or founded a dynasty. If my readers will give me their indulgence, I shall try in the short space to which I am necessarily restricted to reinterest them in the history of three of the most remarkable empires, and in that of three of the most interesting nationalities, of all the many that have held sway over the broad plains of India. And what magnificence, splendour and power; what courage, heroism and magnanimity; what statecraft, administrative capacity and skill in organization ; and yet withal what cruelty, oppression, and treachery, are centred round these three great historical nationalities ! Alternately illuminating and darkening the pages of Indian history for three centuries, arousing on the one hand our admiration and wonderment, and on the other our contempt and horror; now acclaimed by an easily contented subjectpopulation for a passing rule of justice and toleration ; now accursed for the miseries, extortions, and corruptions following a long course of tyranny and oppession; now blazing forth in the majesty of Oriental splendour, and irresistible in the tide of victory and triumph; and now crumbling into premature decay under the accumulated load of vice and of every sort of sensual indulgence;
languishing for a brief period in a state of helplessness and inanition, and then yielding the sceptre to a stronger power from the West, destined to construct and consolidate, to bring peace and security, to repress the lawless and protect the weak, to insure justice and to punish wrong, to substitute tolerance for bigotry, freedom for slavery, purity for corruption, enlightenment for ignorance, to develop the resources of the country, to proclaim and maintain the supremacy of the laws, and to embrace all the diverse races of India, irrespective of class, religion or caste, into one sacred and inviolable roll of citizenship under the dominating ægis of the British flag.
Differing as the Mogul, Mahratta and Sikh nationalities did in all essential characteristics—in race, religion, habits and customs—they each had this element in common, that each of them rose to empire under the guidance of a youthful and an unlettered leader. Akbar, Sivaji
, and Ranjit Singh, great commanders and great administrators, who raised the fortunes of their respective nations when these were at the lowest ebb, and who showed a genius and capacity for rule which places them a head and shoulders above their contemporaries, were devoid of book-learning, and were even said to be incapable of writing their own names, though Akbar is reputed to have composed some indifferent poetry. But in the founding of empires a cool head, a brave soul, and a stout arm, have accomplished more than the culture of the scholar or the learning of the philosopher. Nature steps in where art is wanting, and supplies the nerve, the resolution, the genius, to conceive and to work out what educational culture would most probably have put aside as chimerical, fatuous, or impossible. Not that the three great empire-builders that have just been named worked out their majestic plans on the same broad lines. Nature, it is true, was the instructress in each instance, but in each she was faithful to the needs of the individual environ
What was necessary for the success of an Akbar would have wrecked the fortunes of a Sivaji and prevented
Ranjit Singh from establishing a Sikh kingdom in the north - west of India. Akbar's sphere of operations embraced large provinces and principalities, while those of Sivaji were confined to the limits of Maharashtra, and those of Rånjit Singh to the territories between the river Sutlej and the mountain barriers of Hazara and Peshawar on the north-west. Where personal bravery and activity were required in Akbar's case to be tempered by prudence and caution, and where the skilful employment of other agencies was an unavoidable necessity, in the case of the Mahratta or the Sikh the personal element alone contributed to initial success. Without restless activity, dash and reckless courage, Sivaji could not have risen from comparative obscurity to the acknowledged sovereignty of the Mahratta tribes. And without the same qualities, coupled with matchless skill in the arts of deceit and treachery, which an Akbar would have scorned to have used, the one-eyed lion of the Punjab would not have converted the leadership of a small Sukarchakia confederacy into the powerful sovereignty of a united Sikh kingdom. Again, while Akbar had to reconstruct the empire, which the genius of his grandfather Baber had won, and which the ill-fortune of his luckless father Humaiyun had almost lost, the Mahratta and the Sikh had no hereditary burdens to discharge, and no responsibilities to respect. Sivaji and Ranjit Singh were creatures of the time, adventurers who saw in the weakness of the Muhammadan Rajput or Sikh States of the period their own opportunities for advancement, and seized upon them with the boldness and selfishness of a Napoleon. Their rise to power was more sudden, more Napoleonic in its glamour and meteoric brilliance, but less consolidated and less enduring than that of Akbar. The Mahratta and Sikh sovereignties vanished as they arose, leaving nothing but ruin, terror and intrigue in their
The empire of Akbar at his death extended eastward in an unbroken line from Cabul to Bengal and Orissa, and included the greater part of Central and Western India. He thus left to his successors a magnificent inheritance,
which a series of dissolute and incompetent Princes allowed to perish.
To group together these three types of Asiatic governments, ruled respectively by a Moslem, a Mahratta, and a Sikh-the first of which had died of inanition before it came into conflict with British arms, while the two last were crushed by the latter—and then to contrast them with the system which took their place, is the most effective method of drawing up a debtor and creditor account between them, and of showing the people of India what, under the most favourable circumstances, they might expect if the protection of the British raj no longer existed, and what, on the other hand, is their present condition under the supremacy of that raj.
The Mogul Empire dates rightly, not from the advent of Baber, but from the victory of Panipat—that great battleground of conflicting armies-gained by Akbar, his grandson, under the experienced generalship of Bairam Khan (1556 A.D.). Baber had, indeed, extended his conquests from the gates of Cabul to the banks of the Narbadá, but he did not live long enough to consolidate his power ; and his son and successor, Húmayún, was not the man to weld together a newly constituted empire, made up of territories acquired by conquest from various divergent races, into one strong homogeneous whole. With no force of character, with no power of concentration, courageous but irresolute, accomplished but incapable of steady application to affairs of state, a witty companion and a generous master, the fitful career of Húmayún, an Emperor one day and a fugitive the next, was but a reflection of his own character -a combination of virtues and weaknesses which unfitted him to sustain the inheritance which his father had bequeathed to him. But in Akbar the Moslem world again points with pride to those qualities for universal rule which were the glory of the early Saracen Caliphs. At the age of fourteen the task of reconstructing the empire of Baber, which his own father had lost, devolved upon Akbar, and
fire, he gave the first evidence of his prowess as a military commander and of his disinclination to strike a fallen foe. When his adversary Hemu, the chief Minister and general of Muhammad Shah Adil, was brought before him, and he was urged by Bairam Khan to prove his sword on the “infidel,” Akbar's reply was characteristic of his chivalrous nature : “He is now," he said, “no better than a dead
How can I strike him? Had he sense and strength I would fight him.” And this was the feeling which more than once influenced his action in after life. Thus, in his second expedition against his rebellious feudatories in Western India, he suddenly came upon the enemy at night when they were not prepared for him, believing he was still at Agra. But in order not to fall upon them unawares, he ordered his trumpeters to sound the alarm, and refused to attack until the enemy had been drawn up and were prepared for battle. He then headed the advancing column, dashed into the river, and, forming up his troops on the opposite bank, charged the enemy with the fury of a tiger, and gained a decisive victory. Indeed, the promise of his early years was amply fulfilled in his long subsequent reign. Resembling Cæsar and Napoleon in the rapidity of his movements, he never shirked personal discomfort or shunned danger when in the battle-field. And although he was ever courteous, accessible, and affable to all who had occasion to approach him, no Oriental or European monarch had a loftier sense of the dignity of his position, or knew better how to display it with all the accessories of unbounded wealth and magnificence—with his 5,000 elephants and I 2,000 led horses—than did this unlettered genius, whose Court was the resort of all that was worthiest in the land. Nevertheless,
“ In himself was all his state,
Dazzles the crowd."