The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 62


Shah Jahan's Court

Oct 07, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

After numerous failed attempts in military craft and political strategy, by the mid-point of his career as emperor, the reputation of Shah Jahan had grown somewhat ragged. The son was left to continue on with the battles started by his father, Jahangir, many of which had been based on the political maneuverings initiated by Jahangir's brilliant wife, Nur Jahan. This alone proved to be more than Shah Jahan was capable of.

Out of the endless number of battles, strategic forays, and military operations the Mughals engaged in under Shah Jahan, one could settle on almost any of them to get a feel for the mood of Shah Jahan's court, which was every bit as aggressive and viscous in its drive to take and hold power as any of the preceding Mughal rulers had been.

As described in the Cambridge History of India, in December of 1631 A.D., Emperor Shah Jahan deputed his general, Asaf Khan, to invade Bijapur, in northern Karnataka state. Enroute, the troops overtook Bhalki, then Gulbarga, where they massacred the Hindu population. The army set-up camp between Nauraspur and Shahpur, a little northwest of Bijapur, and opened siege on the predominantly Vaisnava population. As various negotiations with local leaders were undertaken, a long stretch of drought that had been plaguing the region turned into serious famine. The Mughal army themselves began suffering due to the increasing difficulty in getting provisions. The Bijapur campaign is described in the Cambridge History:

    "During the short siege of twenty days no grain had been brought in and the provisions which had been carried with the army were almost finished. Asaf Khan therefore retreated west to Miraj, seeking supplies, plundering the country and killing or enslaving the population. He then struck north past Sholapur, where the pursuing army of Bijapur turned back, and he returned to the Mughal territories.

    The emperor was by this time disgusted with the Deccan where his wife had died, his plans had not succeeded and the desolation of famine still continued."

Shah Jahan, facing the same painful consequences of famine that the local people did, reacted as any one of the Mughal rulers likely would have he ordered the murder of the Indian citizens and the plundering of whatever meager food stores they had. As a youth, Shah Jahan then known as Prince Khurram had busied himself destroying the crops and orchards of the Mewar people. In Bijapur the worm had turned, and the emperor was now destroying people and stealing the crops, instead.

As noted in an earlier segment, Shah Jahan's plundering of Bijapur was just the latest in a long line of assaults on the Vaisnava temples and people of the region:

    "No ancient Hindu or Jain buildings have survived at Bijapur and the only evidence of their former existence is supplied by two or three mosques, viz., Mosque No. 294, situated in the compound of the Collector's bungalow, Krimud-d-din Mosque and a third and smaller mosque on the way to the Mangoli Gate, which are all adaptations or re-erections of materials obtained from temples. These mosques are the earliest Muhammadan structures and one of them, i.e., the one constructed by Karimud-d-din, must according to a Persian and Nagari inscription engraved upon its pillars, have been erected in the year 1402 Saka (A.D. 1324), soon after Malik Kafur's conquest of the. Deccan."

When we consider the famous sites of Vaishnava antiquity in the Bijapur district, we get a better sense of the loss of the ancient temples destroyed by these Mughal invaders. Take, for example, the ruins of nearby Aihole and Badami, which are home to some of the most amazing Vaisnava relics remaining in the region. They were fortunately missed during the Mughal attacks, and we can only wonder at how many similar manifestations of the Lord's form were taken from our view by men like Shah Jahan.

Lord Nrsimha at Aihole (left) and at Badami (right)


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