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The Mughal Throne Paperback – February 5, 2004
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This meticulously researched book that recounts late medieval Indian history--from 1526 to 1707--is part of a four-volume study that will cover the history of India from the beginning up to 1858. Chronologically, this is the third volume, although it is the first to be published. The author describes in detail two of the many battles the Mughals fought and depicts the everyday life of the six rulers and the people, saying that his objective is "to portray life rather than merely to chronicle history." Eraly discusses the camp followers, civilians fleeing the approaching armies, and soldiers suffering from thirst and hunger as they cross deserts and snowbound mountain passes. He tells of elephants and beautiful women exchanged as spoils of war and recounts the rulers' taste in clothes, perfume, liquor, wine, tobacco, opium, and concubines. This account of the Mughal conquest of India is essential in understanding that period of history. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
An entertaining and informative journey charting the rise of the Mughal dynasty while examining the lives, concerns and fascinations of the first six of the 11 Indian emperors... who each in their different way ruled with a ruthless, ego-driven aggression that helped preserve thrones, cities, artefacts and harems while advocating war, pillage and plunder.―IRISH TIMES
This is a majesterial history covering six reigns of that larger-than-life empire... this paperback edition improves on the hardback with some full colour illustrations.―SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
Fans of Starkey or Schama should now look east with Abraham Eraly... This edition improves on the hardback with a sumptuous selection of Mughal art.―BOYD TONKIN, THE INDEPENDENT
Eraly's exhilarating saga of India's great emperors celebrates the last golden age of India, a great multicultural period of imperial achievement.―THE TIMES
An unashamedly old-fashioned narrative history of the Mughal Emperors.―SUNDAY TIMES
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It is difficult for a historian to be unbiased because personal preference always creeps in along with contemporary judgement. When a favorite personage used stratagem and would trust no one, he was prudent and wise. The same from a disliked personage would be treachery and paranoia. Flamboyant rulers are exciting so flaws are forgiven. Conservative rulers are boring so must be held accountable. When Akbar was lenient, he was magnanimous. When Aurangzeb did the same, he was weak. Fortunately, this book did a good job trying to balance the perspective and explain the differences between then and now. But there are still plenty of preaching from a modern point of view.
I give this book 5 stars because it is well researched and well written. It is a digest and a catalogue. Anyone interested in any of these emperors can then proceed to more specific history of the individual emperor because Mughal emperors were big at having biographies and haliographies of themselves.
Babur, the tiger cub descendant of Chingis and Tamerlane, spent most of his life running. Pushed out of Central Asia by the Uzbeks, he found a foothold in Kabul. When Uzbek expansion got too close, he headed for Hindustan to get further away. Much of what we know of him came from his own journal, the Baburama. History generally gave him a positive review because he was the poor orphan who made good.
Humayun just wanted a life of leisure. Chased out of Hindustan by Sher Khan, he tried to take Kabul from his brother. When that failed, he sought refuge in Persia. But Persia would not have him and pushed him to return to recapture his patrimony. He then reneged on his promise to Persia for its help. His greatest contribution to history was fathering Akbar, the Great.
Akbar was the golden boy of the Mughal Empire. Like Harun al Rashid and Suleiman the Magnificent, he was at the right place at the right time. As with Harun and Suleiman, the ground had been cleared and the stage prepared for him by able deputies. For a minority to rule over a majority, collusion and collaboration are necessary. Because of his liberal policies and wide conquests, his reign was hailed the Golden Age. But his contemporaries were not so happy with him and he faced stiff oppositions at home and had to put down endless rebellions. Even his son Salim tried to rebel. Being “the Great”, history forgave him his shortcomings as a typical conqueror and absolute ruler.
Salim was a man of grandiose pretention. He took the grand title Jahangir, Conqueror of the World, for himself and named his favorite wife Nur Jahan, Light of the World. He later gave his favorite son Khurram the title Shah Jahan, Lord of the World. Like Humayun, he just wanted a life of pleasure and sent others to do the conquest for him. His ambitious wife gladly stepped in to rule in proxy. She was so powerful and influential a figure in the Jahangir reign, a whole chapter of this book was devoted to her. During his reign, Europeans began to make their presence felt in India. Instead of merely attempting to rebel, Jahangir’s sons openly rebelled.
As Akbar’s conquests and Jahangir’s peace had filled the treasury, Shah Jahan transformed the Mughal court into magnificent splendor and showered favorites generously. The Mughal court had become so Persianized, few spoke Turki. Even Baburama had to be translated into Persian. Like father, like son. His sons also rebelled and he was imprisoned in his old age by his son Aurangzeb. But, he is now remembered mainly for his love of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Chosen One of the Palace. Like Nur Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal was also ambitious and never left Shah Jahan’s side. She also made sure she was the only one to bear him children. When she died, he built the Taj Mahal for her. The whole world loves a lover, especially a flamboyantly indulgent and magnificently sad one, so history is very kind to him.
All the previous Mughal rulers were much loved favorite sons but Aurangzeb was decidedly not, and his reign reflected his disaffection. To outdo his father and grandfather, Aurangzeb took the ridiculous title Alamgir, Conqueror of the Universe. He tried to steer the Mughals to the straight and narrow and imposed strict Islamic laws. Even though he fulfilled his forefathers’ dream of conquering the whole of India, the glory days of the Mughal Empire were over. And Aurangzeb’s sons also rebelled against him as this had become the family tradition. Unlike Shah Jahan, he gave instructions that his tomb should be simple with only a slab of stone. As he was dull and religious, and as the Mughal Empire fell apart after him, history judged him very harshly.
Even though the Mughal Empire went on for a while longer, this book ended at the death of Aurangzeb. After Aurangzeb, the warrior energy of the Mughals was spent and the empire went into decline. Shivaji rose from bandit to become the capi de tutti capi of the Maratha mafia. After the center collapsed and the old royal houses destroyed, bands of brigands ravaged the land. As the empire descended into chaos, the heads of the crime families carved up the empire and called themselves rajas. And the Mughals lost Kabul to the Afghans.
In the meantime, the Europeans became more aggressive in their looting and piracy. The British, after pushing out the Portuguese and the Dutch, began its military occupation in the name of protecting trade. Under the policy of “divide and conquer”, Britain devoured India one raja at a time and finally deposed the last Mughal ruler and declared Queen Victoria the Empress of India. Ironically, it was then, the various people in the subcontinent forged a new identity as “Indians”.
I wish the book had included a chronology chart of major Mughals, Uzbeks, Persians, Ottoman, and European events to show Mughal court’s place and relations in the world. And, instead of gripping about the Mughals and the Indians in hindsight in the Epilog, I wish the author had used it to discuss the second half of the Mughal Empire and give a brief account of the remaining emperors’ futile efforts which no one seems to want to talk about. The Incidental Data, however, have some charming stories. There is also a minor calculation error in the book. As Raushanara was born in 1617 and died in 1671, she would have been 54 instead of 47.
The book is entitled "The Mughal Throne" and that is precisely what the book is about. If you are interested in only the life of the Mughals you need to read "The Mughal World" by Eraly, which deals with that very subject and is also a fantastic read.
Anyone who likes history will enjoy this book. It is well researched, there are numerous and repeated references to original sources. It flows well and keeps the reader interested to the end. It is the best book to read on this subject. As Dalrymple has stated, ".. a superbly readable narrative .."