Islamic History of India

Strictly speaking, the term, Mohammedan India, could only be applied to those frontier districts in which the Mohammedans have a preponderating influence, but the Mohammedan emperors left such conspicuous monuments of their reign in Lucknow, Delhi and Agra that it does not violate the proprieties to thus describe this section. The Mohammedans themselves have laid virtual claim to this territory by the establishment of their chief college at Aligahr, nearly equidistant from Agra and Delhi, and their claim is still further strengthened by the fact that while they have not a majority, they have a very large percentage of the population of both of the last named cities.

In approaching this section of India from the east, the tourist passes through Cawnpore, made memorable by the massacre of the British residents during the mutiny of 1857. The recollection of the mutiny is still fresh in the minds of the British officials, and numerous monuments have been reared to the bravery of the besieged garrisons.

At Calcutta one is shown a black piece of pavement which covers a part of the Black Hole of Calcutta (the rest of the hole is now covered by a building) where in 1756 one hundred and forty-six human beings were forced to spend the night and from which only twenty-three escaped alive. The hole was twenty-two by fourteen feet and only sixteen or eighteen feet in height, and the awful sufferings of those who perished there are commemorated by an obelisk which stands near by.

But the cruelty practiced at the time of the mutiny far more stirred the English heart, and as the uprising was more extensive, several cities contain memorials. Of these the most beautiful is at Cawnpore, and is called “The Angel of the Resurrection.” It is made of white marble and represents an angel with hands crossed and each holding a palm. It stands upon an elevated mound in a beautiful park, and is enclosed by a stone screen. It was the gift of Lord and Lady Canning and bears the following inscription : “Sacred to the perpetual memory of a great company of Christian people, chiefly women and children, who near this spot were cruelly murdered by the followers of the rebel Nana Dhundu Pant, of Bithur, and cast, the dying with the dead, into the well below, on the 15th day of July, 1857.”

There is also at Cawnpore, in another park, a stately memorial church, the inner walls of which are lined with tablets containing the names of British soldiers who lost their lives during the mutiny.

Lucknow is not far from Cawnpore, and here, too, the mutiny has left its scars and monuments. The Lucknow residency, now an ivy mantled ruin, was the scene of the great siege that lasted from the first of July, 1857, to the seventeenth of November. At the beginning there were within the walls nine hundred British troops and officers, one hundred and fifty volunteers, seven hundred native troops, six hundred women and children and seven hundred non-combatant natives; total, about three thousand. When relief came but one thousand remained. The night before the arrival of Sir Colin Campbell with reinforcements, one of the besieged, a Scotch girl, dreamed of the coming of relief, and her dream gave rise to the song so familiar a generation ago, “The Campbells Are Corning.”

There are in Lucknow a number of tombs, mosques and buildings that gave us our first glimpse of the architecture of the Mogul emperors—great domes, gigantic gateways and graceful minarets, stately columns and vaulted galleries. The most interesting of the buildings, Imambarah, built by Asaf-uddaulah, contains a great hall more than a hundred and fifty feet long and about fifty feet in breadth and height. On one side of the court is a private mosque and on the other a group of apartments built around a well as a protection against the summer’s heat. From the top of the Imambarah one obtains an excellent view of Lucknow and its surroundings.

At Aligarh I found a great educational institution which must be taken into consideration in estimating the future of Mohammedanism in India. It was founded in 1877, largely through the influence and liberality of Sir Syed Ahmed, who until his death in 1898 devoted himself entirely to its development. He was a large-minded man and full of zeal for the enlightenment of his co-religionists. He recognized the low intellectual standard of the Mohammedan Indians, and the controlling purpose of his life was to assist in their improvement.

At first, his educational enterprise met with a cold reception at the hands of the leaders of his church. Emissaries were even sent from Mecca to assassinate him, but, nothing daunted, he pursued his plans until the church authorities recognized the importance of the school.

As the Mohammedans are numerically weaker than the Hindus and unable to cope with them in intellectual contests, Sir Syed opposed the national congress proposition which the Hindus have long urged and the Aligarh school became conspicuous for its pro-British leanings on this question. This may account in part for the interest taken in it by the colonial government. (The Central Hindu College at Benares refuses government aid and is, therefore, more independent.) But since the death of Sir Syed the congress idea is growing among the students of Aligarh.

Aligarh College now has an enrollment of seven hundred and four, more than a hundred of whom are law students. It has an English Cambridge graduate for president and several English professors. I might add that England, like America, has sent many teachers to India, and that they are engaged in work, the importance of which can not be overestimated. I had the pleasure of meeting those connected with St. John’s College at Agra as well as those at Aligarh.

Delhi is one of India’s most ancient cities. When the Aryans came down from the northwest and conquered the aboriginal tribes, they founded a city which they called Indrapat, just south of the present site of Delhi. How old it is no one knows, for the names of its founders have been forgotten, its records, if it had any, have been destroyed, and its streets are winding footpaths which one follows with difficulty. Every wave of invasion that has swept down from the north or west has passed over Indrapat, and its stones would tell a thrilling story if they could but speak. The city has been rebuilt again and again, the last time about three hundred years ago, but it has little to exhibit now but its antiquity. There is a massive city wall with huge gates, there are tumble-down buildings occupied by a few people and some goats, and there is a stone library building erected hundreds of years before Carnegie was born, but the glory of Indrapat has departed. Not far from Indrapat is the splendid tomb of Humayun and another of the Asoka pillars.

Eleven miles south of the present Delhi is what is called old Delhi (Delhi seems to have had a movable site) immortalized by the famous Kutab Mina”, or tower, erected near the close of the twelfth century by one of the earliest Mohammedan conquerors after the capture of Delhi. The tower—a tower of victory—is two hundred and thirty-eight feet in height, forty-seven feet in diameter at the base and nine at the top. It has been described as one of the architectural wonders of the world, and it certainly gives one a profound respect for the mind that planned it. There are so many mausoleums and mosques scattered over the plains around Delhi that space forbids particular description.

Within a century after the death of Mohammed the Moslems made an attack upon India, but it was five hundred years later before they became masters of the great peninsula. Then for five hundred more it was the scene of conflict between rival Moslems until Timur (Tam erlan, the Tartar) plundered it and drenched it with blood. In all these wars Delhi was the strategic point, the natural capital of the north. After Timur, came his descendant of the sixth generation, Babar, who consolidated the Indian empire by bravery, tact and wisdom. He is the first of the great Mogul rulers, but he was so occupied with the extension of his sovereignty that he was compelled to leave the development of the empire to his descendants. His grandson, Akbar, built three great forts, one at Allahabad, to which reference has been made in another article, another at Agra, which he made his capital, and the third at Atok, still farther north. He also built Fate pur Sikri about twenty miles from Agra. This was to be his home, and here on a sandstone ridge overlooking the plain he reared a group of buildings which even now, though deserted for two centuries, attracts tourists from all over the world. While the material employed is red sandstone, the buildings are models of beauty as well as strength, and the minute and elaborate carvings are masterpieces in their line.

The fort built by Akbar at Agra, while not proof against modern missiles, was impregnable in its day and still bears testimony to the constructive genius of the second of the Moguls.

Six miles from Agra at Sikandra stands the magnificent tomb which Akbar built and where he rests. It is constructed of red sand-stone and is part Buddhist and part Saracenic in design. The base is three hundred and twenty feet square and its four retreating galleries terminate in a roofless court of white marble in which stands a marble Casket surrounded by screens of marble most exquisitely carved. Special interest is felt in the tomb because one of its ornaments was the famous Kohinoor diamond, the largest in the world. It had come down to Akbar from his grandfather, who in turn secured it from the Rajputs. -The diamond was carried away by Persian conquerors, and later was returned to India Only to be transferred to Queen Victoria.

But if Akbar surpassed his grandfather as a builder, he was in turn surpassed by his grandson, Shah Jehan. This emperor, the last of the three great Moguls, who began his career by murdering two brothers and two cousins whose rivalry he feared, and who closed his career a prisoner of his rebellious son, has linked his name with. some of the most beautiful structures ever conceived by the mind of man. At Agra within the walls of his grand-father’s fort, he built the Pearl Mosque which has been described as “the purest, loveliest house of prayer in existence.” It is constructed of milk white marble and combines strength, simplicity and grace. He also built the Gem Mosque at Delhi.

The fort at Delhi was built by Shah Jehan, and if its resemblance to the fort at Agra deprives him of credit for originality, that argument can not be raised against the palace within, for this is unrivaled among palaces. The marble baths, the jeweled bed chambers, the pillared halls, the graceful porticoes—all these abound in rich profusion. But it was upon the great hall of Private Audience that he lavished taste and wealth. The floor is of polished marble, the pillars and the arched ceiling of polished marble inlaid with precious stones, so set as to form figures and flowers. Each square inch of it speaks of patient toil and skill, and the whole blends harmoniously. For this magnificent audience room he designed a throne fit for the chamber in which it stood. “It was called the peacock throne because it was guarded by two peacocks with expanded tails ornamented with jewels that reproduced the natural colors of the bird. The throne itself was made of gold, inlaid with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Over it was a canopy of gold festooned with pearls supported by twelve pillars, all emblazoned with gems. On either side stood the Oriental emblem of royalty, an umbrella, each handle eight feet high and of solid gold, studded with diamonds, the covers being of crimson velvet crusted and fringed with magnificent pearls.” Thus it was described. It was too tempting a prize for greedy conquerors to leave undisturbed, and was carried off some centuries ago by a Persian, Nadir Shah. Shah Jehan, after contemplating this audience chamber and throne, had inscribed upon the wall in Persian characters a verse which has been freely translated to read :

“If on earth be an Eden of bliss, It is this, it is this, it is this.”

And yet, in view of his sad fate there seems as much irony in the lines as there was in the delicately poised scales of justice which he had inlaid on one of the walls of his palace after he had put his relatives out of the way.

But of all the works of art that can be traced to his genius, nothing compares with the tomb, the Taj Mahal, which he reared in honor of the best-loved of his wives, Numtaj Mahal, “the chosen of the pal-ace.” This building, unique among buildings and alone in its class, has been described so often that I know not how to speak of it without employing language already hackneyed. When I was a student at college I heard a lecturer describe this wonderful tomb, and it was one of the objective points in our visit to India. Since I first heard of it I had read so much of it and had received such glowing accounts from those who had seen it, that I feared lest the expectations aroused might be disappointed. We reached Agra toward midnight, and, as the moon was waning, drove at once to the Taj that we might see it under the most favorable conditions, for in the opinion of many it is most beautiful by moonlight. There is something fascinating in the view which it thus presents, and we feasted our eyes upon it. Shrouded in the mellow light, the veins of the marble and the stains of more than two and a half centuries are invisible, and it stands forth like an apparition. We visited it again in the daytime, and yet again, and found that the sunlight increased rather than diminished its grandeur. I am bringing an alabaster miniature home with me, but I am conscious that the Taj must be seen full size and silhouetted against the sky to be appreciated.

Imagine a garden with flowers and lawn, walks and marble water basins and fountains; in this garden build a platform of white marble eighteen feet high and three hundred feet square, with an ornamented minaret one hundred and thirty-seven feet high at each corner; in the center of this platform rear a building one hundred and eighty feet square and a hundred feet high, with its corners beveled off and, like the sides, recessed into bays; surmount it with a large central dome and four smaller ones ; cover it inside and out with inlaid work of many colored marbles and carvings of amazing delicacy; beneath the central dome place two marble cenotaphs, inlaid with precious stones, the tombs of Shah Jehan and his wife, and enclose them in exquisitely carved marble screens—imagine all this, if you can, and then your conception of this world-famed structure will fall far below the Taj Mahal itself. It is, indeed, “a dream in marble.” And yet, when one looks upon it and then surveys the poverty and ignorance of the women who live within its, shadow, he is tempted to ask whether the builder of the Taj might not have honored his wife more had the six million dollars invested in this tomb been expended on the elevation of womanhood. The contrast between this artistic pile and the miser-able tenements of the people about it robs the structure of half its charms.