Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 38


Raja Man Singh of Amber
Rajasthan, Jodphur, c. 1840

Jun 05, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Rajputs

As mentioned in our first segment on the Rajput empire, the timeline of their presence in India is very long indeed, spanning from the 6th Century A.D. until the days of the British Raj. In our last segment we summarized the scope of the Rajput school of painting, up to the 18th Century. Today, we will try to place some of the key markers on that timeline, showing where the Rajputs intersected in important ways with the Vaisnavas.

The Rajputs had a significant impact on the Mughals in northwestern India, in Rajasthan and the surrounding region, and they had a decisive influence on many of the Mughals' successes and failures. The Mughal emperor Akbar, who ruled from 1556 to 1605 A.D., had a Rajput wife. Her heritage, and the continued presence of the Rajputs who were installed in leadership positions in Akbar's court, continued to influence Mughal rule through the period of his son, Jahangir's rule.

The Rajputs were also key figures in Bengal and Orissa under the Mughals. In his book, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760 author Richard M. Eaton describes the situation in Bengal just before Akbar's departure, and into the reign of his son, Jahangir. Eleven years before his death, Akbar had sent one of his best men into Bengal to strengthen and expand his presence there. This Rajput general was Raja Man Singh (pictured above), who had been an active leader in Akbar's court for some time in the northwest.

Raja Man Singh was the ruler of Amber, which later became known as Jaipur. Although he was a trusted general of Emperor Akbar's, and Akbar had named him as one of the Navaratnas, or 'nine gems of the royal court', Raja Man Singh remained a staunch devotee of Lord Krsna, and did not become an adherent of Akbar's Islamic faith. At one point, Srila Jiva Goswami instructed Raja Man Singh to build a temple for his Damodara deity, and that divine event marks the origination of the Radha-Damodara Mandir, with its transcendental library of the Goswamis literary gems.

Srila Prabhupada has described the Mughal influence in a somewhat positive light, particularly with respect to their ability to manage – an area in which Hindu India was not known for excelling. The Rajputs contributed significantly to the Mughals' success in this regard. Their presence became a pivotal element in many battles, political strategies, alliances and subterfuges. Being a primary Kshatriya line, the Rajputs served as officers and administrators for the Mughal empire. This historical period can also be traced through devotional paintings, and we have written about this in numerous Feature series in the Sun over the years.

The devotees are, of course, very familiar with the interface between the Mughal Empire and the Vaisnavas in 16th Century Bengal, as described in the Caitanya-caritamrta. Lord Caitanya had many interactions with the Muslims, including His famous pastime with the Chand Kazi. Generally less well known is the history of the Mughal's arrival in Bengal, and how the domino effect of their influence, in large part through the agency of Rajput administration, caused a dramatic change in the face of India's religious history. But despite the growing sea of Muslims, the Vaisnavas held fast to the school of Bhakti, keeping devotion for Sri Krsna Caitanya ever vibrant.

Much Brajbhasha literature originating in the Vaishnava society of Vraja and Mathura was influenced by both the Mughal courts and their Rajput associates, particularly during the period when the Mughals were based in Agra. The marriage of Vaisnava philosophy and Mughal custom is traceable through the Court arts of the 17th and 18th centuries in Bishnupur and Mewar, with many beautiful Krsna themes emerging. Particularly in the paintings of Mewar, the Rajput style of Vaisnava painting is predominant.

Not only was Raja Man Singh a supporter of Srila Jiva Goswami in Vrindavan, he was also a sincere supporter of Lord Jagannatha in Puri. Raja Man Singh was deployed to serve as the governor of Bengal by Akbar in 1594 A.D. A few years prior to that, in 1587, there was a change of power in the Bengali and Orissan governments. Shahbaz Khan left his post there and returned to the Mughal court at Delhi. In his absence, local leaders in both states became more aggressive in their support of the Afghans, who again began pushing north into Bengal, trying to unseat the Mughals who have driven them from their seats of power in Bengal.

From their new stronghold in Orissa, the Afghans once again began attacking the Mughals in Bengal. In response, Akbar assigned Raja Man Singh, his Rajput general and new Bengal governor, to deal with the Afghan instigators in Orissa.

Due to various circumstances, including the health of key leaders, the potency of the Afghan forces, the lack of needed Mughal forces, etc., both the Afghan and Mughal leaders decided that it was time to arrive at a peace agreement.

The Afghan king at this point in history was a young boy, and he was brought before the Rajput governor to accept the subservient position in the peace negotiations. Arriving at Mughal headquarters with many gifts to be given in tribute, including 150 elephants, the Afghan king signed a peace treaty with Raja Man Singh. The Rajput general then sent to Emperor Akbar 1,004 elephants, as a gift to mark the victory.

The peace treaty signed with the Orissan Afghans gave three primary concessions to the Mughals:

    1) Emperor Akbar's name would be used in the kutba (offering of prayers) and would appear on Orissa's coins;

    2) The Afghan ruler of Orissa would serve as the obedient and loyal vassal of Emperor Akbar; and

    3) The Temple of Jagannatha Puri and surrounding lands in the district would be ceded to the Emperor.

The fact that the Jagannath Temple was included in this political settlement indicates the very interesting balance of relationships that were in place at the time. The Puri temple had nothing to do with the Afghans, and this was Afghan treaty. It had more to do with Akbar's personal relationship with the Raja of Orissa, who was the custodian of the temple at that time.


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