Mathura During Mughal Regimes

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Mathura During Sultanate And Mughal Regimes

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A part from inscriptions and other fragmentary archaeological vestiges of its ancient glory, the first authentic contemporary record of Mathura that we find in existing literature is dates back to the year 1017 AD, when it was sacked by Mahmud of Ghazani in his ninth invasion of India. The original source of information respecting Mahmud's campaigns is the Tarikh-E-Yamini of Al Utbi, who was himself secretary to the Sultan, though he did not accompany him in his expeditions. He mentions by name neither Mathura nor Mahavan, but only describes certain localities, which have been so identified by Firishta and later historians. The place supposed to be Mahavan he calls "the Fort of Kulchand," a Raja, who (he writes) "was, not without good reason, confident in his strength, for no one had fought against him and not been defeated. He had vast territories, enormous wealth, a numerous and brave army, huge elephants, and strong forts that no enemy had been able to reduce. When he saw that the Sultan advanced against him, he drew up his army and elephants in a `deep forest' (Mahavan) ready for action. But finding every attempt to repulse the invaders fail, the beleaguered infidels at last quitted the fort and tried to cross the broad river which flowed in its rear. When some 50,000 men had been killed or drowned, Kulchand took a dagger, with which he first slew his wife and then drove it into his own body.

The Sultan obtained by this victory 185 fine elephants besides other booty." In the neighbouring holy city, identified as Mathura, "he saw a building of exquisite structure, which the inhabitants declared to be the handiwork not for men but of Genii Gina, a Jain deity). The town wall was constructed of solid stone, and had opening on to the river two gates, raised on high and massive basements to protect them from the floods. On the two sides of the city were thousands of houses with idol temples attached, all the masonry and strengthened with bars of iron, and opposite them were other buildings supported on stout wooden pillars. In the middle of the city was a temple, larger and finer than the rest, to which neither painting nor description could do justice. The Sultan thus wrote respecting it: If any one wished to construct a building equal to it, he would not be able to do so without expending a hundred million dinars, and the work would occupy two hundred years, even though the most able and experienced workmen were employed.' Orders were given that all the temples should be burnt with naphtha and fire and levelled with the ground". The city was given up to plunder for twenty days. Among the spoil are said to have been five great idols of pure gold with eyes of rubies and adornments of other precious stones, together with a vast number of smaller silver images, which, when broken up, formed a load for more than a hundred camels. The total value of the spoil has been estimated at three millions of rupees, while the number of Hindus carried away into captivity exceeded 5,000.

Nizam-ud-din, Firishta, and the other Muhammedan historians take for granted that Mathura was at that time an exclusively Brahmanichal city. It is possible that such was really the case; but the original authorities leave the point open, and speak only a general term of idolaters, a name equally applicable to Buddhists. Many of the temples, after being gutted of all their valuable contents, were left standing, probably because they were too massive to admit of easy destruction. Some writers allege that the conqueror spared them on account of their exceeding beauty, founding this opinion on the eulogistic expressions employed by Mahmud in his letter to the Governor of Ghazni quoted above. It is also stated that, on his return home, he introduced the Indian style of architecture at his own capital, where he erected a splendid mosque, upon which he bestowed the name of `the Celestial Bride'. But, however much he may have admired the magnificence of Mathura, it is clear that he was influenced by other motives than admiration in sparing the fabric of the temple; for the gold and silver images, which he did not hesitate to demolish, must have been of still more excellent workmanship.

During the period of Muhammedan supremacy, the history of Mathura is almost a total blank. The natural dislike of the ruling power to be brought into close personal connection with such a centre of superstition divested the town of all political importance; while the Hindu pilgrims, who still continued to frequent its impoverished shrines, were not invited to present, as the priests were not anxious to receive, any lavish donation which would only excite the jealousy of the rival faith. Thus, while there are abundant remains of the earlier Buddhist period, there is not a single building, nor fragment of a building, which can be assigned to any year in the long interval between the invasion of Mahmud in 1017 AD and the reign of Akbar in the later half of the sixteenth century; and it is only from the day when the Jats and Marathas began to be the virtual sovereigns of the country that any continuous series of monumental records exist.
Nor can this be wondered at, since whenever the unfortunate city did attract the Emperor's notice, it became at once a mark for pillage and desecration; and the more religious are sovereign, the more thorough the persecution. Take for example the following passage from the Tarikh-i-Daudi of Abdullah (a writer in the reign of Jahangir), who is speaking of Sultan Sikandar Lodi (1488-1516 AD), one of the most able and accomplished of all the occupants of the Delhi throne: "He was so zealous a Musalman that he utterly destroyed many places of worship of the infidels, and left not a single vestige remaining of them. He entirely ruined the shrines of Mathura, that mine of heathenism, and turned their principal temples into saraes and colleges. Their stone images were given to the butchers to serve them as meat-weights, and all the Hindus in Mathura were strictly prohibited from shaving their heads and beards and performing their ablutions. He thus put an end to all the idolatrous rites of the infidels there: and no Hindu, if he wished to have his head or beard shaved, could get a barber to do it." In confirmation of the truth of this narrative, it may be observed that when the Muhammedan Governor Abd-un-Nabi, in 1661, built his great mosque as a first step towards the construction of the new city, of which he is virtually the founder, the ground which he selected for the purpose, and which was unquestionably an old temple site, but to be purchased from the butchers.

During the glorious reign of Akbar, the one bright era in the dreary annals of Imperial misrule, there was full toleration at Mathura as in all other parts of his dominions. Of this an illustration is afforded by the following incident, which is narrated by the court historian Badauni: "among the persons held in high favour at the Court was a Shaikh, by name Abd-un-Nabi who occupied the distinguished position of Sadr-us-Sadar. A complaint was made to him by Kazi Abd-ur-Rahim of Mathura that a wealthy Brahman had appropriated some materials that had been collected for the building of a mosque, and not only used them in the construction of a temple, but, when remonstrated with, had, in the presence of a crowd of people, foully abused the Prophet and all his followers. The Brahman, when summoned to answer the charge, refused to come; whereupon Ab-ul-Fazl was sent to fetch him, and on his return reported that all the people of Mathura agreed in declaring that the Brahman had used abusive language. The doctors of the law acoordingly gave it as their opinion—some that he should be put to death, others that he should be publicly disgraced and fined. The Shaikh was in favour of the capital punishment and applied to the Emperor to have the sentence confirmed; but the latter would give no definite reply to him. The Brahman meanwhile was kept in prison, the Hindu ladies of the royal household using every endeavour to get him released, while the Emperor, out of regard for the Shaikh, hesitated about yielding to them. At last Abd-un-Nabi, after failing to elicit any definite instructions, returned home and issued orders for the Brahman's execution. When the news reached the Emperor, he was very angry, and though he allowed Abd-un-Nabi to retain his post till his death, which occurred in 1583, he never took him into favour again."

Jahangir, on his accession to the throne, continued to some extent his father's policy of religious tolerance; but in the following reign of Shahjahan, we find Murshid Ali Khan, in the year 1636, made a commander of 2,000 horse, and appointed by the Emperor as Governor of Mathura and Mahavan, with express instructions to be zealous in stamping out all rebellion and idolatry. The climax of wanton destruction was, however, attained by Aurangzeb, the Oliver Cromwell of India, who, not content with demolishing the most sacred of its shrines, thought also to destroy even the ancient name of the city by substituting for it Islampur or Islamabad.
Mathura was casually connected with two important events in this Emperor's life. Here was born, in 1639, his eldest son, Muhammad Sultan, who expiated the sin of primogeniture in the Oriental fashion by ending his days in a dungeon, as one of the first acts of his father, on his accession to the throne, was to confine him in the fortress of Gwalior, where he died in 1665. In the last year of the reign of Shahjahan, Aurangzeb was again at Mathura, and here established his pretensions to the crown by compassing the death of his brother Murad. This was in 1658, a few days after the momentous battle of Samogarh, near Agra, in which the combined forces of the two princes had routed the army of the rightful heir, Dara. The conquerors encamped together at Mathura, being apparently on the most cordial and affectionate terms; and Aurangzeb, pretending that for himself he desired only some sequestered spot where, unharrased by the toils of government, he might pass his time in prayer and religious meditation, persistently addressed Murad by the royal title as the recognized successor of Shahjahan. The evening was spent at the banquet; and when the wine cup had begun to circulate freely, the pious Aurangzeb, feigning religious scruples, begged permission to retire. It would have been well for Murad had he also regarded the prohibition of the Quran. The stupor of intoxication soon overpowered him, and he was only restored to consciousness by a contemptuous kick from the foot of the brother who had just declared himself his faithful vassal. That same night the unfortunate Murad, heavily fettered, was sent a prisoner to Delhi and thrown into the fortress of Salim-garh, adjacent to Red Fort. He, too, was subsequently removed to Gwalior and there murdered.

In spite of the agreeable reminiscences which a man of Aurangzeb's temperament must have cherished in connection with a place where an act of such unnatural perfidly had been successfully accomplished, his fanaticism was not a wit mitigated in favour of the city of Mathura. In 1668, a local rebellion afforded him a fit pretext for a crusade against Hinduism. The rebel armed peasants had mustered at Sahora, a village in the Mahavan pargana, where (as we learn from the Maasiri-i-Alamgiri) the Governor Abd-un-Nabi advanced to meet them. "He was at first victorious, and succeeded in killing the ringleaders; but in the middle of the fight he was struck by a bullet, and died the death of a martyr." It was he who, in the year 1661, had founded the Jama Masjid, which still remains, and is the most conspicuous building in the city which has grown up around it. He was followed in office by Saif-Shikan Khan; but as he was not able to suppress the revolt, which began to assume formidable dimensions, he was removed at the end of the year 1669, and Hasan Ali Khan appointed Faujdar in his place. The ringleader of the disturbances, a Jat, by name Gokula, who had plundered the Sadabad pargana, and was regarded as the instrument of Abd-un-Nabi's death, fell into the hands of the new Governor's Deputy, Shaikh Razi-ud-din, and was sent to Agra and there executed. A few months earlier, in February of the same year, during the fast of Ramazan, the time when religious bigotry would be most inflamed, Aurangzeb had descended in person on Mathura. The temple specially marked out for destruction was one built so recently as in the reign of Jahangir, at a cost of thirty-three lakhs, by Bir Singh Deva, Bundel, of Orchha. Beyond all doubt this was the last of the famous shrines of Keshav Dev. To judge from the language of the author of the Maasir, its demolition was regarded as a death-blow to Hinduism. He writes in the following triumphant strain: "In a short time, with the help of numerous workmen, this seat of error was utterly broken down. Glory be to God that so difficult an undertaking has been successfully accomplished in the present auspicious reign, wherein so many dens of heathenism and idolatry have been destroyed! Seeing the power of Islam and the efficacy of true religion, the proud Rajas felt their breath burning in their throats and became as dumb as a picture on a wall. The idols, large and small alike, all adorned with costly jewels, were buried under the steps on Nawab Kudsia Begam's mosque (Jama Masjid located in front of Agra fort), so that people might trample upon them for ever." It was from this event that Mathura was called Islamabad in Islamic circle for some period. In 1707 Aurangzeb died, and shortly after began the rule of the Jats of Bharatpur. They restored the old cultural glory of Braj, the land of Lord Krishna.