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The Mughal Throne Paperback – February 5, 2004
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Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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.
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
Eraly's exhilarating saga of India's great emperors celebrates the last golden age of India, a great multicultural period of imperial achievement.
An unashamedly old-fashioned narrative history of the Mughal Emperors.
Top Customer Reviews
The focus of the book is the emperors themselves. It begins with Babur, who came out of Central Asia, a descendent of Tamerlane, who established the dynasty in North India. Babur also wrote an autobiography which detailed the principle events of his life which makes fascinating reading even today (Modern Library has recently reissued it in paperback).
Babur was succeded by his son Humayun, who has to be one of the most unlucky rulers of the 16th century. There was the usual strife between him and his siblings (which became the standard way of doing business as time progressed) which undermined the stability of the throne. Humayan spent a lengthy period in Persia which had longstanding cultural implications for the Mughals.
Fortunately for the dynasty,during its exile Sher Khan, whose 5 year rule allowed for certain administrative reforms that allowed the restored Mughal dynasty a certain degree of financial independence and the resources to build the great monuments and to extend its control from the north of India down to south. Many historians have downplayed Sher Khan's legacy, but Eraly is quite thorough in addressing this point.
Humayan died of a freak accident while pursuing his hobby of astonomy. His son Akbar assumed the throne and with him, his son, Jahangir, and grandson, Shah Jahan were the great days of the Mughals. It is the successes of that these remarkable rulers enjoyed, ruling much of modern India, that we remember this dynasty. Here Eraly handles the variety of court intrigues, building marvels, and sensual pleasures that made up the day to day life of an Indian Mughal emperor. The section on Akbar is particularly well-done, dealing with the cultured, yet illiterate emperor's wise appreciation of the religious questions.
Akbar's ability to understand the need to balance the Moslem religion of the rulers with the Hiduism of the ruled is in marked contrast with the final emperor detailed in the book, Aurangzeb. Embarking on a policy of religious intolerance and military expeditions lead to isolation from his Rajput allies and ultimately the demise of the empire in 1857 and the establishment of British rule in India.
This is an excellent work which shows how the the Mughals were able to achieve all that they did and how they were undone by one of their own.
"The Mughal Throne: The Saga of India's Great Emperors," is the first released third volume of a four part history of India, and though it is far from the definitive work on the Mughals it is a well written, and exciting saga - just what the title says it would be - a narrative that hits all the high points, and delves into just enough detail not to loose the casual historian or India-phile.
If you want to know India, especially Northern India, you must know the Mughals, and they're a family worth knowing. (If you like the Medici's, you'll love the Mughals.) Their reign was short in the scheme of Indian history, but stamped the country for all time.
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.