THE MUGHAL EMPIRE IN INDIA (1526-1857)
In the 1500’s the Mughals under their leader Babur made their way into India, expanding under Akbar the Great, and built one of the most remarkable empires in history before being suceeded by the rule of the British Empire. They extended their sway over the greater part of South Asia bringing an era of peace and stability that allowed the economy and society to flourish. The Mughal Empire ruled over 150 million people at a time when Britain had fewer than 10 million, France less than 20 and even the comparable Ottoman Empire less than 30 million. They stimulated a wide range of cultural interactions and transformations that were to enrich the Indian world in remarkable ways,, from miniature painting, to calligraphy and the growth of the Urdu language and script to the splendor of the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of world architecture. Equally important if less well appreciated in the West is the magnificent literature the Mughals produced and patronized, first in the imperial language of the court, Persian, and from the early eighteenth century, in Urdu, a north Indian language closely related to Hindi but using the Mughal Persian script and adding a large vocabulary of loan-words and cultural allusions, genres and aesthetics from Persian and Muslim Arabic. Writers of global significance from this period include such renown figues as Ghalib, master of the ghazal love poem, Sauda the great prose satirist, the Jain writer Banarasidas, Mir Taqi Mir, the great poet of religious tolerance Kabir, and even the journals and lagacies of the Mughal Emperors themselves, such as Babur, Jahangir and Akbar the Great.
Though geographically the sub-continent of India is somewhat isolated from its Eurasian surroundings by the barrier of the Himalayas, it has nonetheless remained a significant “crossroads of the world” in which movements of peoples and cultures have brought great cross-fertilization from the time of the arrival of the Vedic Aryans onward to include the movements of Greeks and Persians, Kushans and Scythians, Buddhist monks from China and Japan, Mongols and Timurids, Muslims, the Portugese, French and the global British Empire. As such it has also been renown as a cradle of spirituality, the origin of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and other religions, as well as bearing the influence of other religious traditions such as Christianity and Islam.
The Moghal Empire was one of the three Muslim empires which arose following the Mongol destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate in the 13th century, which were often referred to as the “Gunpowder Empires” as part of their power and consolidation arose from the use of firearms and cannon, as exemplified in the Ottoman Janissary Corps. Thus the Ottoman Empire (1300-1922), the Safavid Persian Empire (1501-1736)which institutionalized the Shi’a religion in Iran, and the Mughal Empire (1526-1857) bridged the era from the fall of the Caliphate to the Mongols to the rise of global Western Imperialism. At the early stages they dwarfed the European states and their relative demise was anything but a foregone conclusion, the Ottomans almost taking Vienna; if America had not been discovered global history might have turned out quite otherwise.
As the West ascended to supremacy reinforced by the Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution and Industrial Revolution their empires gradually dismembered and absorbed their relatively stagnant Islamic rivals, particularly the modernizing Russian Empire (1547-1917) to the north and the economically, scientifically and culturally dynamic British Empire (1497-1970), which was destined to supplant all three as the largest and most powerful empire in all of world history, ruling over more than one-fourth of all global land area and human population. Nonetheless, for centuries the three Islamic empires constructively competed and also learned from each other cultually, sharing the Arabic language,Islamic religion and sharia law in the religious domain, as well as the Persian language for administration, diplomacy and culture in the royal courts, forming an impressive era of Islamic civilization.
The mission of the World Literature Forum is to introduce to readers coming from their own national literary traditions such as the West, to the great writers of all the world’s literary traditions whose contribution and influence beyond their own borders have had an influence on the formation of our emerging World Literature in our age of globalization, unprecedented travel and interaction of cultures including the instantaneous global communications of the Age of the Internet and the cross-border e-Book. The contributions of India and the Muslim world including those of the Mughal Dynasty in India form a rich part of this common heritage of mankind.
KABIR, RENOWN POET OF RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE AND SPIRITUALITY
An early figure in the mixing of the Vedic and Muslim traditions was that of the poet Kabir (1440-1518) born as an illegitimate child of a Brahmin mother in Varanasi who was raised by a Muslim family, then became a desciple of the Vaisnava Saint Ramananda. As such he turned away from the intolerance of sectarian religion on all sides and strove for the unification of all spiritual traditions in an ecumenical mysticism, Muslim, Sufi, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist, seeking after a simple “oneness” with God in all manifestations. He was also a staunch champion of the poor and oppressed and a devoted opponent of social injustice in all forms. Persecuted at times by all sides in the collision of faiths, Kabir’s legend describes his victory in trials by a Sultan, a Brahmin, a Qazi, a merchant and god, and he became the subject of folk legends that still inspire tolerance in sectarian strife between Muslims and Hindus down to the present.
His greatest work is the “Bijak” (the “Seedling”), an idea of the fundamental oneness of man, and the oneness of man and God. He often advocated leaving aside the Qur’an and Vedas and simply following the Sahaja path, or the Simple/Natural Way to Oneness in God. He believed in the Vedantic concept of atman, but unlike earlier orthodox Vedantins, he spurned the Hindu societal caste system and murti-pujan (idol worship), showing clear belief in both bhakti and Sufi ideas. The major part of Kabir’s work was collected as a bhagat by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan Dev, and incorporated into the Sikh scripture, “Guru Granth Sahib.” An example of his poetry showing openess and tolerance is “Saints, I See the World is Mad:”
Saints, I See the World Is Mad
Saints, I see the world is mad.
If I tell the truth they rush to beat me,
If I lie they trust me.
I’ve seen the pious Hindus, rule-followers,
early morning bath-takers—
killing souls, they worship rocks.
They know nothing.
I’ve seen plenty of Muslim teachers, holy men
reading their holy books
and teaching their pupils techniques.
They know just as much.
And posturing yogis, hypocrites,
hearts crammed with pride,
praying to brass, to stones, reeling
with pride in their pilgrimage,
fixing their caps and their prayer-beads,
painting their brow-marks and arm-marks,
braying their hymns and their couplets,
reeling. The never heard of soul.
The Hindu says Ram is the Beloved,
The Turk says Rahim.
Then they kill each other.
No one knows the secret.
They buzz their mantras from house to house,
puffed with pride.
The pupils drown along with their gurus.
In the end they’re sorry.
Kabir says, listen saints:
They’re all deluded!
Whatever I say, nobody gets it.
It’s too simple.
Copyright Robert Sheppard 2013 All Rights Reserved