The Light & the Dark, Volume XXVIII
Chapter VI - part 6


1. On arrival

The first Portuguese arrived in India in 1498, the first Dutch in 1601, the first English in 1608, and the first French in 1668. What kind of Indian subcontinent did they find there? Was it, like North America, a land peopled with nomadic tribes, without a great political structure, more or less up for the grabs? Quite the contrary! There were ancient, highly developed civilizations and mighty states, even large empires with famous rulers. Yet, there was no all-India empire, comprising what is now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
When the Portuguese arrived in 1498, the subcontinent was divided into a great many states. In the north, in Hindustan, along the southern flank of the Himalayas we find the largest of these states, the Sultanate of Delhi, also called the Kingdom of Lodi. In present day terms it comprised the autonomous Indian provinces of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The second largest was the Rajput Confederacy, now Rajasthan. Then there was Bengal, now Bangladesh, and many others, some of which now are Indian provinces, like Orissa and Gujarat. We must not forget the island of Ceylon, now the independent state Sri Lanka.

2. The Muslim Sultanate of Delhi

The dominant religions of the subcontinent are the Hindu religion and Islam. There are also minority religions, that of the Sikhs, Jainism, Buddhism and Christianity. Both the Islam and Christendom are latecomers. For a long time there was a Turkish threat in the west, but it materialized only after 1200. The Turks came from Punjab, where there was already a Turkish presence. It were Turks who conquered Hindustan and founded the Sultanate of Delhi. Unlike all their predecessors they were not absorbed by the Hindy masses; they even converted many Hindus to Islam. During the sultanate of Mohammed ibn Tughluk (1325-1351) the sultanate reached its greatest extension. Many Hindu states were tributary to it. With the Mongol invasion of 1398 a period of decay began.
Michael Edwardes characterizes Turkish rule as a `camp' administration, that is, a military occupation: "all its actions were concerned to preserve its power."[i] After the Mongol invasion redress was slow; the situation was different now. The new Muslim rulers slowly expanded what was left of the ancient sultanate, intent upon winning the adherence of the Hindu population by a regime of "tolerance, protection and a guarantee of justice." The first rulers of the fifteenth century were descendants of Timur Lenk, but in 1451 power was seized by a member of the Afghan Lodi tribe, Bahlul, who ruled Hindustan until 1489. He was succeeded by his son Sikandar (1489-1517), whose domains stretched from the Indus to Bengal. His capital was Agra.

3. Other Muslim rulers

Apart from the Lodi kingdom there were more territories with Muslim rulers, Bengal to the east, Kashmir to the north, and Malva and Gujarat to the south of Lodi. Still farther to the south there were five Muslim sultanates in the so-called Deccan, that is, in central India: Ahmamagar, Bijapur, Bidar, Berar and Golconda. The small sultanate of Kandesh, in the valley of the river Tapu, between Malva and Berar, should also be mentioned. What appears from this summary is that the north and the central part of the subcontinent had Muslim rulers, but this does not mean that the Hindu population massively converted to Islam. Yet, it explains why there was a Muslim minority during the early modern and modern periods.
In the southern part of the subcontinent we find a great Hindu empire, called Vijayanagar. It was founded in 1336 and became a highly important centre of Hindu art and culture. It now is the home of the autonomous Indian provinces of Mysore, Kerala, Madras and Andhra Pradesh.[ii]

4. The arrival of the Portuguese

On May 20, 1498, Vasco da Gama dropped anchor near Calicut, a city of the Hindu empire on the west coast. The Portuguese were no occasional visitors; from the first their intention was to stay. With this the European presence in the subcontinent began; it ended in 1961 with the occupation of the last European establishments by the Republic of India. "Portuguese aim in India during the sixteenth century", writes M.N.Pearson, "was to enrich their state and themselves ... Right from the start their method was to use force."[iii] Already in 1499 King Manuel I of Portugal adopted the grandiose title of `Lord of the conquest, navigation, and commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, and India', displaying the usual disregard of the structures and institutions already existing in those countries.
In 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral (1460-1526), a Portuguese adventurer, arrived at Calicut. He made it clear what the Portuguese meant by force, for he bombarded this city; he was back home in 1502 with a rich cargo. During his absence there was a discussion at the court on the question of whether the Portuguese would act peacefully in India, as traders, or use force. It was to be force. In 1502 Vasco da Gama arrived for the second time, with instructions to build a fort. There was to be a permanent Portuguese military presence, mainly by stationing a fleet near Calicut. The first fort was built in 1503 near Cochin, south of Calicut; more forts followed.

5. The State of India

In 1505 the newly established `State of India' got its first viceroy, Francisco d'Almeida (c.1450-1510). The arrogance of the Portuguese is really unbelievable, for this `state' consisted only of a few forts, which were not connected with each other. However, this term entailed a programme of expansion that d'Almeida began to execute during his short governorship (1505-1509). He defeated an Arabian-Egyptian fleet near Diu in Febuary 1509 and in this way got the control of the commerce in spices.
The number of Portuguese forts grew steadily until there were sixteen of them, fourteen on the west coast, from Gujarat in the north to Malabar in the south, one on the east coast, San Thomé, and one in Ceylon, Colombo, in 1518. From Colombo the Portuguese spread along the coasts of the island, until most of the coastal strip was in their hands. The best known Portuguese possession in India is Goa, on the west coast, conquered in 1510. It remained in Portuguese hands until 1961. In 1530 it became the seat of the viceroy. Alfonso d'Albuquerque (1453-1515), viceroy from 1509 to 1515, wrote to King Manuel: "I leave the chief places in India in Your Majesty's power."[iv]

6. The commercial monopoly

The Portuguese empire consisted, apart from Brasil, of about fifty forts and fortified areas, not only in the Indian subcontinent, but also in East Africa and the Moluccas. Some of these were acquired by means of a treaty with a local ruler, but most of them were conquered. Portugal maintained a military presence of a fleet of a hundred sails in the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese made ample use of Indian soldiers and sailors.
It was all about trade, or to be exact, about a monopoly, "the monopoly of the spice trade to Europe, a monopoly on the trade between various specified ports within Asia, the control, direction and taxation of all other trade in the Indian Ocean, private trade, done on their behalf by most Portuguese living in India."[v] The Portuguese state and many Portuguese individuals did very well out of it. Yet, a country like Portugal with between one and two million inhabitants simply did not have the means for conquering extended territories.

7. The Mughal Empire

a. Babur, the founder

During the whole of the sixteenth century no European competitor appeared. Nonetheless, something happened that changed the face of India: the Mughal Empire was founded. As we have seen, about 1500 the subcontinent was a patchwork of states. The only large state was the Lodi kingdom in the north, ruled by Afghans. At a respectable distance the Rajput confederacy followed. Lodi and Rajput rulers were all Muslims, but Muslim expansion was stopped by the Hindu states of Vijanayagar. Percival Spear concludes: "Given that India was in a state of confusion and conflict, and that it also boiling with life and energy, we may ask whether there were any great forces moving the minds of men beneath the surface of events. Such a force I find difficult to see at this time."[vi]
The impulse came from a foreigner, from a certain Babur. His mother was a Mongol (`mughal' is Arabian-Persian for `mongol'), a descendant of Chingiz Khan; his father was a Turk, a descendant of Timur Lenk. Babur, who was born in 1483 and whose vernacular was Turkish, succeeded his father in the small principality of Farghana in the region of the Syr Darja. With this we are not in India, but in regions in the north and to the north of Afghanistan. He had only a small force at his disposal. "The followers who still adhered to my fortunes, great and small, exceeded two hundred and fell shot of three hundred. The greater part of them were on foot with sandals on their feet and clubs in their hands, and long frocks over their shoulders. Such was their distress that between us we had only two tents."[vii]
Babur was a born adventurer. In 1497, when he was fourteen years old, he thrice captured Samarkand in Persia and thrice lost it. In 1504 he conqured Kabul. now the capital of Afghanistan, and ruled there as King Zahir ud-Din Muhammad.[viii] Yet, he was not satisfied; he dreamt of recovering territories which had once belonged to his forefathers. The powerful Uzbeqs blocked his way to the west, so he needs directed his gaze to the east, to the Lodi kingdom. As he wrote in his autobiography: "Since I have become master of Kabul, I have never ceased to think of the conquest of Hindustan", with which he meant the Kingdom of Lodi.[ix] Raids made into India in 1517 and 1519 taught him that there was much discontent with the rule of the reigning Lodi king, sultan Ibrahim. His chance came in 1526, when disaffected subordinates of Ibrahim invited him to come. His army numbered some twelve thousand men, of whom perhaps eight thousand could really fight, whereas Ibrahim could confront him with fifty thousand men and a hundred elephants.[x] Babur's troops were "in great tremor and alarm".[xi] Nonetheless, he succeeded in penetrating into the Lodi kingdom, until he was only fifty miles west of Delhi.
Sultan Ibrahim, described as "a young inexperienced man, careless in his movements, who marched without order, halted or retired without foresight," was no match for the battle-hardened Babur. On April 21, 1526, he defeated Ibrahim in the plain of Panipat. The sultan himself fell, together with fifty thousand of his men. Shortly afterwards Babur and his men occupied Delhi and Agra.
Babur did not love India: too hot. And he did not love the Indians: "the people are not handsome". In his view they were brutes, lacking all the amenities of life. "The chief excellency of Hindustan is that it is a large country and has an abundance of silver and gold."[xii] His men wanted to return to Kabul with the loot, but Babur convinced most of them that they should stay. The first thing he did in Agra was "to lay out gardens in the Persian style".[xiii]
The Lodi Kingdom had perished, but there was another, far more formidable opponent, the Rajput confederacy. It could muster an army of eighty thousand men, supported by five hundred war elephants. Once again Babur's men were dispirited; "a general consternation and alarm prevailed among great and small." And once gain the eloquent Babur put a new heart into them. "Let us then, with one accord, swear on God's holy word, that none of us will turn his face from this warfare."[xiv] The Rajputs had pushed on until in the vicinity of Agra, but were routed near the village of Khanua on March 16, 1527. Babur's last great feats of arms was his invasion of Rajputana, his victory over the last Rajput chiefs, and the conquest of their capital on January 28, 1528. Moving eastward from Lodi territory, he conquered Bihar in 1529.
In December 1530 Babur died. At that moment his empire comprised Badakshan (from where he had started), Afghanistan, Punjab (the former Rajput confederacy), the former Lodi kingdom, Bihar and Bengal, a loose collection of lands without much cohesion, held together by Babur's personality. We should not think of him as a brute conqueror; he was doubtless a great general, but also a man of style and letters.[xv]

b. The unfortunate Humayun

"Babur left an empire barely held together by force of arms and lacking any solidated civil administration."[xvi] He was succeeded by his twenty-three-year-old son Humayun (1530-1556). He was not so energetic as his father and rather erratic in his policy, perhaps because he was an opium addict. There was much opposition from the side of Hindu chiefs, to whom this Muslim was a foreigner, an intruder, and local Muslim chiefs did not want to get orders from above. Yet, neither the Hindus nor the Muslim chiefs succeeded in making a common front.
In a sudden burst of energy Humayun conquered Malva and Gujarat in 1534-1535, but then returned to his life of pleasure in Agra. He soon lost both his conquests. This convinced the Afghan opposition that he was worthless. An Afghan chief built up a strong power base in South Bihar; his name was Sherkhan Sur. In 1537 Humayun thought fit to take action against him, but lost much time in luxurious inactivity. In June 1539 his rival defeated him at Chausa on the Ganges and again in May 1540 near Kanauj. From then on Humayun was a fugitive; he fled always farther west, until he found a refuge in Persia. There, at Umarkot, his son Akbar, whose name means `the Great', was born on November 23, 1532.
There would never be a Mughal empire, or so it seemed. Babur's and Humayun's lands were ruled by Sherkhan from 1540 to 1545; he gave himself the title of `emperor'. Spear calls him "the great might-have-been of Afghan history", but "in the event [his] empire collapsed almost as quickly as it arose."[xvii] Sherkhan died in 1545, to be succeeded by his son Jalal Khan, whose reign - 1545-1553 - was as turbulent as his father's. Meanwhile, Humayun had recovered from his misfortunes and was moreover the favourite of the Persian King Ismail, against a price, of course, for the Afghan city Kandahar should be handed over to him. The shah provided him with an army with which he invaded Afghanistan and conquered Kandahar, but did not cede it to the shah. He had to fight two of his own brothers there; he banished them to Mecca after having one of them blinded.
He was a different man, no longer the pleasure loving young fellow. Once established at Kabul, he turned Afghanistan into his power base. In December 1544 he was ready to strike at India. Soon he had conquered Lahore and defeated a large army in Punjab; a still larger army approached from the east, but he crushed it at Macchiwari on June 18, 1555. Shortly afterwards, Humayun entered Delhi and Agra and was emperor again. And then he fell from the steps of the Sher Mandal palace and died on his injuries on in January 1556.[xviii]

c. Akbar

Was it all over now with the Mughal empire for the second time? By no means! For there was Akbar, Humayun's thirteen-year-old son, whom he had already made governor of Punjab. When he heard of his father's sudden death, he was campaigning against an opponent of Humayun, but his faithful guardian had him immediately proclaimed as emperor at Delhi and formally enthroned at Kalanaur on February 14 or 15, 1556. Akbar became the true founder of the Mughal empire. His reputation was that of a great enlightened and cultured ruler, and as such he was held up by liberally minded Europeans as a model for their own rulers.[xix]
His son described his father as being "of middle height, of a wheat-coloured complexion, with black eyes and eyebrows. His beauty was of form rather than of face, with a broad chest and long arms ... His voice was extremely loud, and in discourse he was witty and animated. His whole air and appearance had little of the worldy being but exhibited rather divine majesty."[xx] It was not wholly in accordance with this divine majesty that he was a great drinker and sometimes inbibed so much that he "sank back stupefied".[xxi]
In his younger years he was too restless to learn the alphabet; he preferred athletic games and hunting wild animals. He never learned to read and write; the only piece of writing we possess of him is a clumsily composed signature. That he nonetheless acquired the reputation of being very erudite is due to his fabulous memory; he had many books read to him the contents of wich he stored in his head. This illiterate man had a library of twenty-four thousand manuscripts. He especially loved to listen to the poetry of the great sufi poets Hafiz and Jalal ud-Din Rumi. There was a strain of mysticism in him that alienated him from Muslim orthodoxy; we are justified that he never was a true Muslim. In his later years he was openly hostile to this religion.

d. Akbar's religion

After 1575, when he no longer went campaigning, he had a "House of Worship' built in the garden of his palace. In fact it was a discussion hall, where theological topics were discussed, at first only Muslim theology of the various schools, but after 1579 also of other religions, Jaini, Hindu and even Christian. There was at that time a Jesuit mission in India. Akbar had some knowledge of the Christian religion; wanting to know more, he let two Jesuit missionaries come from Goa; they arrived at his palace in February 1580 and gave him the information he desired to have. It is sometimes thought that he converted to Christianity, but he never did so. Actually, he had his own religion. Sometimes he mounted the pulpit of the mosque next to his palace, but instead of reciting the Koran, he read verses by a dissident. He even forbade to use the Prophet's name in public prayers.
Naturally, this caused a strong reaction from the side of the Muslim establishment. In 1580 a rebellion broke out in Bengal; the rebels wanted to depose Akbar and to replace him with one of his half-brothers who was orthodox. Akbar left it to his generals to repress this rebellion which lasted until 1585. A rapid expedition to Kabul in 1581 under his own leadership taught possible rebels there a lesson. By now he had sufficiently cowed all his opponents; in 1582 virtually all opposition had ceased, with the exception of a few pockets in Bengal. "He could literally do what he pleased. He enjoyed this liberty until the end of his life three years later."[xxii]
In 1582 he held a council during which a new religion was proclaimed, the `Divine Monotheism', or `Divine Religion'. The most conspicuous tenet of this new religion was that Mohammed is not the ultimate prophet; he was replaced by Abu-l Fazl. This new prophet, who would act as the religion's high priest, was the son of Sheik Mubarak, an heretical Muslim theologian, whom Akbar had come to know in 1573. A more horrible heresy than that Mohammed was not the ultimate prophet is hardly conceivable. This means that Akbar was no longer a Muslim (if he had ever been one); he told a Jesuit father as much in 1582.
His attitude to Islam was definitely hostile. The use of the name of Mohammed as a personal name was forbidden; people should not study the Arab language, Muslim law, and Koran commentaries. Worse, the ritual prostration was not only due to Allah, but also to the emperor. Still worse, the worship of the sun, fire and light - elements of the Zoroastrian religion - were prescribed at the court. Although a number of courtiers and officials embraced the new religion for opportunistic reasons, it never enjoyed a large following. Yet, Akbar's unorthodoxy was dear to Europe's enlightened minds.[xxiii]

e. Akbar still coming into his own

We must now retrace our steps. Akbar was not only a self-styled religious innovator, he was first and foremost a conqueror. In his first period of rule, Akbar, still a boy then and under the guidance of his guardian and vizir Bairam Khan, had to cope with vigorous opposition. In the north a Hindu general, Hema, was very successful; he conquered Agra and Delhi. Akbar, however, could not afford to lose his capital; he confronted him with a small army near Panipat on November 5, 1556. Defeat seemed certain, when Hema's war elephants charged the Mughal centre, but then an arrow hit him in the eye. Believing that he was dead, his soldiers fled in all directions. The wounded Hema was led before Akbar, who killed him with his scimitar. This was on the advice of Bairam who wanted him to earn the title of Ghazi, defender of the faith, by having him slay his opponent. The next day Akbar occupied Delhi and a few days later also Agra.[xxiv] More conquests followed, so that in 1560 the Mughal empire had more or less the extent of Babur's dominions.
By then Akbar, now eighteen and a self-conscious young man, was through with Bairam, forgetting that he had bestowed the title of khan khanan, the noblest of nobles, on him. His guardian was an authoritarian and tactless man had no lack of enemies, the principal of whom was Akbar's mother, Hamida Bano Begum. In the spring of 1560 the young emperor unceremoniously dismissed Bairam and ordered him to go on pilgrimage to Mecca. Bairam went, had second thoughts, rebelled, was defeated, again ordered to depart for Mecca, and was on his way thither murdered in January 1561.[xxv]
This did not mean that Akbar was his own master now; public affairs did not interest him at all. The years 1560-1562 were period of the `petticoat government', of rule by ladies of the court; the ambitious and unscrupulous Maham Anaga, his chief nurse, schemed to replace Akbar with her own son, Adham Khan, a violent man. He made a name for himself by conquering Malwa, behaving there with the utmost brutality and returning home with all the dancing girls. Meanwhile, `behind the veil', as his biographers say, Akbar was coming into his own. In 1562 he married a daughter of a Rajput ruler. She was a Hindu; by marrying her Akbar expressed his intention to be the ruler of all Indians.
The petticoat government ended in dramatic way. In November 1561 Akbar appointed a faithful servant as prime minister. Fearing that this man would rob him of his power, Adham Khan walked into his study and stabbed him to death. Hearing the noise, Akbar stormed in and smote the murderer so hard with his fist that he fell; he was thrown down the steps of the palace. His mother Maham Anaga died soon afterwards.[xxvi]

f. The conqueror

Akbar, now twenty years old, was really his own master now, not wanting to be overruled by whomsoever, "brooking no rival to his throne ... His designs were purely aggressive, his intention being to make himself the unquestioned lord paramount of India and to suppress the independence of every kingdom within reach of his arm ... [He] never made any secret of the fact that he regarded as an offence the independence of neighbours."[xxvii] This is a perfect description of a dualistic policy.
Akbar began in 1563 by making an unprovoked attack on Gondwana and rapidly conquering it. With this conquest he went beyond the confines of Babur' empire. Gratefulness had no place in the character of great rulers. Akbar suspected the Ubzeq chiefs in the west who had always been loyal to him, of conspiring against him. Distrust is another character trait of rulers of this kind. Akbar used assassins to eliminate a number of Uzbeq chiefs. Then the others rose in revolt, but the emperor defeated them in the Battle of Manikpur in June 1567.
Yet, more than the Uzbeq chiefs Akbar feared Rajputana with its proud history. Immediately after his victory over the Uzbeqs, Akbar marched eastward and laid siege to main stronghold of the Rajput confederacy. This was considered to be impregnable, situated as it was on a high rock and protected with a ring of fortifications eight miles long. For six long months the siege seemed a hopeless affair, the assailants being kept at bay by dense artillery and musketry fire. And then Akbar saw Jamal, the defender of the city, standing on the wall, and felled him with a shot, which was more luck than skill. The city surrendered, but the last clansmen died fighting. The furious Akbar had thirty thousand inhabitants massacred, and the city was thoroughly plundered and left uninhabitated until well in the nineteenth century. All this happened in February 1568. The greater part of Rajputana came under Akbar's control in 1569, but not all of it, for there were tribes who never gave up their armed resistance to Mughal rule.[xxviii]
Next, Akbar let fall his eye on the rich province of Gujarat, to the south of Rajput and bordering on the ocean; the country was in a chaotic condition. It had been subjected to the Kingdom of Lodi and his father Humayun had held it for a short period, for which reason Akbar believed to have a right to it. In July 1572 he invaded Gujarat, but did not have to fight, for its ruler accepted his suzerainty. He was hardly back home, when an insurrection broke out, led by a cousin of the ruler. Akbar rose to the occasion. With three thousand cavalry he left his capital on August 23, 1573, covered six hundred miles in eleven days and defeated an army of twenty-two thousand men near Ahmadabad in September. Gujarat became definitively part of the Mughal empire. It was a rich trophy, what with Gujarat's access to the sea. It was there that the emperor met Euopeans for the first time, Portuguese, of course.[xxix]
Another province that once was subject to the Lodi Kingdom was Bengal. Its king, an Afghan, was stupid enough to declare war on the Mughal Empire. Several campaigns, in 1574, 1575, and 1576, were needed to defeat this King of Bengal. He fell in July 1576 in the Battle of Rajmahal, after which his country was annexed by Akbar.[xxx] The conquest of Bengal in 1576, twenty years after his accession to the throne, "made Akbar master of all Hindustan, including the entire basins of the Indus and the Ganges, with the exception of Sind on the lower course of the Indus ... He had thus become sovereign of the most valuable regions of India, extending from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Benga and from the Himalayas to the Narbada, besides the semi-independent Kabul province."[xxxi] Later still more territories were added, but mostly by his generals, not by himself.
For a long time there were no new conquests. Akbar was fully occupied with his religious reforms and with the revolts caused by these reforms. It was only towards 1590 that he went on the warpath again. His object then was Kashmir with its incredibly beautiful natural scenery. It had hardly ever belonged to India; even today the great question is where it belongs. Then the country was in a state of chaos, for Akbar a sufficient reason to invade it in 1587; it was definitely subjected in 1591. A very valuable addition was Sind in 1592. The small country of Orissa, east Gondwana on the east coast, was annexed in 1590. Afghanistan lost its semi-independent status in 1594.

g. The thrust to the south

Yet, all these additions were only peanuts in Akbar's view. His main object was a thrust to the south, into the Deccan. In 1590 he sent envoys to Berar, Golkonda and Bijapur, who must convince their rulers to accept Mughal suzerainty. They returned with empty hands. Akbar, who was not in habit of taking no for an answer, found he had no other option than to fight. It did not become a walkover. Akbar's generals quarreled with each other; one of them was his son Murad, who was such a heavy drinker that he died of delirium tremens in 1599. Via Kandesh the Indian army penetrated into Berar; its capital, Ahmadnagar, was `manfully' defended by Princess Gaud Bibi. In vain: in 1596 Berar was annexed.
Yet, things did not go according to plan. It was the age-old problem of military strategy: the opponent refuses to execute his part of the plan, that is, letting himself be defeated. The Mughal generals were not able to defeat the combined forces of Bijapur and Golkonda. Then Kandesh forgot that it had accepted Akbar's suzerainty and chose the side of his enemies. This gave the valiant princess of Berar a second chance. In view of this situation the ageing Akbar decided to take things into his own hands.
He went south, occupied the capital of Kandesh and then laid siege to Asirgath, to the north of the capital, one of the strongest fortress towns in India. All storms on the walls failed. Beginning in April 1600, the siege lasted eight months; Akbar got finally in in January 1601 by means of heavily bribing Kandesh commanders. Meanwhile, Ahmadnagar had been besieged for the second time in 1600 after Princess Caud Bibi had been murdered. Akbar proclaimed himelf `Emperor of the Deccan' in 1603. He returned home with not so much as he wanted, for he had not annexed Bijapur and Golkonda.[xxxii] He died of dysentery on October 27, 1605.

8. The Dutch in India

It was in that same year that the first Dutchmen arrived in India. In 1601 and later Dutch ships had reached Gujarat; the reports brought home suggested that commerce with India might be fruitful. In 1602 the United East India Company, the VOC, was founded, a semi-official commercial organization with ample financial and military resources. Three years later the Company dispatched a fleet to East Asia, commanded by Cornelis Matelief (1569-1632). The main body of this fleet sailed on to Malacca, but two ships went to Surat in Gujarat. A factory was established there.
The Portuguese did not welcome them; they considered the west coast of the continent as their chasse gardée. Since its annexation by Spain in 1580 Portugal was at war with the Dutch Republic. Moreover, "the strength of the Dutch navy and economy posed a real threat to continued Portuguese dominance of the waters of western India." Although the Mughal authorities were civil for the Dutch merchants, they did not trust them. As one of them wrote home: "I understand that here all is given to them [the Portuguese] as desired, namely that our nation will be given no place to trade." In 1607 the short stay of the Dutch in Surat ended.[xxxiii]
Since Dutch commercial goods were left in keeping in Surat, a ship was despatched thither. Om board was Pieter Gillis van Ravesteyn, who had instructions to reclaim them, but also to reconnoitre whether a factory could be established in Surat. His long negotiations were not successful, but he was certain that one day the Company would establish a post there.[xxxiv] The Dutch were now convinced that diplomacy would not advance their cause with the Mughal empire; force must be used.
Jan Pietersz Coen, governor of the Dutch Indies, instructed Pieter vanden Broecke to sail from Bantam in West Java to Surat; he was allowed to be aggressive. Vanden Broecke arrived before Surat with the `Nassau' on August 2, 1616 and sent two of his men to the local governor. They were not unfriendly received, but when Vanden Broecke himself went ashore and asked for a farman, an official permission, to open a factory at Surat, the governor was not forthcoming. Vanden Broecke then threated to confiscate an Indian ship due at Surat, whereupon the governor gave a temporary permission, until the emperor would have decided on the matter.
VandenBroecke then returned to Bantam, while two merchants stayed at Surat. They were so severely restricted in their commercial activities, that one the two, Wouter Heusen, went to the viceroy of Gujarat in Ahmadabar in order to plead for an expansion of the Dutch commerce. The viceroy did not possess the competene to grant his, but he advised Heusen to go to Burhampur to plead his cause with the Khan Khanan, the prime minister. Heusen did so; all went well until a servant of his, Pauwels Janssen, accidentally shot a Muslim. Janssen was thrown into prison, where he died, and Heusen had to depart with empty hands.
In July 1617 two ships, the Middelburg and the Duyve, sailing under Vanden Broecke's command to Surat, ran aground. He had them burned out of fear that they would fall into the hands of the Portuguese. The merchandise brought ashore from these ships, was sold at satisfying prices. There was now also a temporary farman allowing the Dutch to trade with the city of Surat; the staff of the factory consisted of seventeen people.
And then a farman from the Khan Khanan arrived. The principal article of this document ran as follows. "[The Dutch] may come and go as often as they wish, and no one will hinder them or act violently against them, and they [in turn] must not hinder anyone." Another important article stipulated that "the Dutch could trade and travel freely between Surat and Burhampur, Ahmedabad and Cambay," which means, through the whole extent of Gujarat.[xxxv] All seemed well now, but there was rivalry from the side of the Portuguese and the English.
There were more factories; there was one in Cochin, far to the south on the west coast. Cochin was a very important commercial centre. Since 1502/1503 the Portuguese were established there, but they had to cede the town to the Dutch, who also pushed out the English; these had a factory there since 1634. The Dutch had a factory in Bengal, and three on the east coast, in Madras, Chinsura and Negapatnam. This last city, on the Coromandel coast, was an important sea port, since 1519 in the hands of the Portuguese. In 1659 the Dutch conquered it and built it out as a strong fortress town. It became the seat of the Company on the west coast, more important for colonial trade than the east coast.
The Dutch left no trace on the Indian subcontinent, but this is different from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Having arrived there in 1605 and making use of conflicts between native rulers, they brought the west coast under their control. They built a fort at Colombo, now the capital of the island. The local rulers hoped that the Dutch would help them against the Portuguese, which, of course. meant driving out the devil with Beelzebub.
To this end the King of Kandy, the holy city, sought contact with the Company in 1637. The Dutch were very eager to instal themselves in Ceylon, in order to get the monopoly of the lucrative cinnamon trade, then in the hands of the Portuguese. In 1638 the Company conquered two towns on the east coast, Trincomali and Batticaloa, and in 1640 it put two thousand men ashore on the south-west coast. On March 13 this force conquered the Portuguese Punto de Gale, which became the Dutch settlement Galle. In 1656 Colombo was captured; in 1658 the Portuguese lost the cinnamon monopoly to the Dutch. Much later, in 1766, more territories on the east coast were conquered; only the centre of the island, with Kandy, remained unoccupied.
Descendants of the Dutch colonists, people of mixed race, but with Dutch family names, and called Burghers, are still to be found in the island. They are mostly in the service of the government.[xxxvi] In Colombo there is a Dutch Reformed Church and in Galle the Dutch Period houses can be admired.

9. The French in India

Let me mention in passing that there was a Danish settlement on the Coromandel coast, Trankobar, established in 1616. Then there was the French presence, actually longer-lived than the English presence. However, the French were not very successful in capturing much of the Indian trade. In 1674 they founded the settlement of Pondicherry on the Coromandel coast; it remained French until 1954.

10. The English presence

The Portuguese, the Dutch, the Danes and the French did not penetrate into the interior; they remained content with their factories, fortresses and fortified areas on the coasts. With the English, however, it was quite a different story.

a. The beginnings

England's great victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 - not without considerable assistance by the Dutch navy - gave the nation a self-confidence it did not have before. On December 31, 1600, Queen Elizabeth I signed a charter for the new `Governor and merchants trading in East India'; it gave this company a monopoly. It was, however, a declaration of interest, rather than a confirmation of an existing situation, because up to then no English ship had been sighted in Indian waters. The first arrived at Surat in 1608, but the Portuguese were too powerful. Four years later an English captain fought the Portuguese successfully; in 1618 the English got a farman to trade in Surat.
Earlier, in 1615, the London government had dispatched an ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe, to the Mughal court; for four long years, 1615-1619, he stayed at this court. It can have been no pleasurable time for him, for the court moved incessantly, and Akbar's successor, Jahangir (1605-1627), a cruel and violent man, was, like his predecessors and successors, an alcoholic. Roe must have been an able and patient diplomat, for he carried off many privileges for the English. As a result they could establish several factories on the west coast, for instance, Anjengo in Travancore, near Cochin.[xxxvii]
Although the British later became allpowerful on the subcontinent, it was not their paramount object of colonization, because India had no spice to offer. Spice was a very profitable commercial commodity: the quantities were small, and the profits were high. The main centre of the spice trade was the island of Amboyna in the Moluccas. The English were there already; they did not want the Dutch and the Dutch did not want them. The English conspired with the local population against the so much stronger Dutch.
In February 1623 these discovered an English plot in which also some Japanese were involved; their aim was to surprise the castle. The governor of the island, Hendrik van Speult, had some Japanese arrested who confessed under torture. Juridically the procedure was doubtful; there were protests. Nonetheless, twenty men were condemned to death, the agent on the island, merchants and employees of the East India Company. Thus van Speult made it clear to the English that they were not welcome in Amboyna and in the Moluccas. Spear writes that this event, known as the `Amboyna massacre', convinced the English to concentrate on India as a second-best. "Without it there would have been no British Empire in India".[xxxviii]

b. Concentrating on India

India provided bulk articles, textiles, salpeter and sugar, which were less profitable than spice. All trade was to be conducted by the East India Company, as the company founded in 1600 was now known. In 1612 it established its headquarters at Surat. The first factory was opened in 1611 at Masulipatam on the west coast. There was another factory at Armagaon, where the English built a fort about 1625. With this the English military presence in India began. A far more important acquisition was made in 1640. The English had the good luck that the power of the Hindu rulers of Vijayanagar was waning. An English agent bought a strip of land near Madras on the east coast; the English were allowed to build fortifications there. "Thus England acquired its first propriety holding on Indian soil."[xxxix] A factory was opened and Fort St.George built. This was the beginning of the Presidency of Madras.
A curious acquisition was Bombay (now called Mumbai), on the east coast. This was a Portuguese possession. When King Charles II married the Portuguese princess Catherine, of the House of Braganza, it formed part of her dowry. In 1661 the king ceded it to the East India Company; it became the Company's headquarters in 1674, instead of Surat. Wolpert describes it as "the Company's premier port and an important British bastion."[xl] This was mainly due to the efforts of its governor Gerald Aungier (1669-1677) to whom it was "the city which by God's assistance it intended to be built." Another famous name comes to the fore, Calcutta (Kolkata), now the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. This settlement was founded by Job Charnocle, who choose, for security reasons, a swampy region at the mouth of the river Cocum. In 1696 a fort was built there, Fort William, named after King William III of Orange-Nassau; this became the Presidency of Fort William.[xli]
It may seem that about 1700 the British were already firmly established on the Indian subcontinent, but this is an optical illusion; in reality we are still far from the British Raj of later times. The English presence consisted of a string of fortresses, hundreds of miles apart, unconnected with each other. They did not extend inland, for at their backdoor the power of the Mughal empire began. "During the time of the Great Mughuls the British territory in India was of negligible area, comprising only a few square miles in the island of Bombay, Madras city, and three or four other locations."[xlii]
But what do we see happening during the eighteenth century? The Dutch and the Danes disappear from the subcontinent, while the Portuguese and the French remained restricted to their isolated positions. The British, however, would become the masters of the subcontinent.

11. The decay of the Mughal empire

After 1700 the heyday of the Mughal empire was over. Its territories were all of a very different nature, but the emperors never succeeded in making a real unity of their realm. Akbar's successors, profiting from the slow decay of the Vijayanagar realm, had been steadily encroaching on it, until the last great Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb (1659-1707), brought this whole realm under his rule. With the exception of the southern tip, where the Tamils live, the whole subcontinent then belonged to the Mughal empire.
Yet, it was precisely this last acquisition that made the lack of unity apparent, for the Mughal empire was Muslim, but Vijayanagar was Hindu. Aurangzeb was not the man to cement the unity, for he was a fanatical Muslim without any respect for the Hindu or whatever other religion. He reimposed the jizya, the poll-tax on non-Muslims, mostly Hindus, which Akbar had abolished. He had also many Hindu temples demolished; their idols were brought to his court by the cartload.[xliii]
After the death of the emperor Babadur Shah I in 1712 king-makers fought over the succession, until they were all shoved aside by Muhammad Shah, who ruled the empire for twenty-nine years (1719-1748). He had, says Spear, "the cleverness to divide, but not the vigour to rule himself, who could preside but not inspire."[xliv] The empire was then virtually divided into two, a northern and a southern half. Spear compares this situation to that of the Late Roman Empire with its western and eastern halves, although in India there never were two emperors.[xlv]
The Rajputs, with their long tradition of independence, no longer conceived of themselves as apart of the Mughal empire. In the Hindu south one revolt followed another. "In addition", writes Spear, "there was, as I see it, an inner malaise, a kind of general loss of nerve on the part of the Muslim community. The Mughals themselves had lost their sense of mission to rule."[xlvi] Others stood ready to profit from this situation, the Persians, the Afghans, the French and the British. Both the latter had important and highly lucrative commercial relations with the Mughal empire.

12. The colonial Anglo-French wars in India

That the French and the British were fighting each other in India in the 1740's and later was a correlate of their wars in Europe. During the Austrian War of Succession (1740-1748) as well as during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) France and Britain were at war with each other. The French scored an unexpected success: with an improvised fleet of merchantmen turned into men-of-war they captured Madras on September 21, 1746. The British fleet had been recalled to Europe; when it returned in 1748, its attack on Pondicherry failed. At the Peace of Aachen the British got Madras back, in exchange for a colonial possession in Canada. At this juncture it was not inconceivable that there would be a French Raj instead of a British one.
The war in Europe was over, for the time being at last, but not that in India. It was at this juncture that Robert Clive turned up, one of England's empire builders. Born in 1727 as the son of an impoverished country squire and having become a `problem case', he went to the colonies, in England and elsewhere the dumping ground for young men who felt being de trop in their own fatherland. Young Clive got a job wih the East India Company and was put to work as a `writer' in a counting office at Madras. This work bored him so much that he tried to blow out his brains, but failed. As Wolpert tersely remarks, he "soon discovered that shooting others would effectively relieve his tensions."[xlvii]
On March 16,1747, his military career began, when he was appointed as ensign in an infantry company stationed at Fort St.David, near Madras. The capitulation of this city in 1748 made him a prisoner of war, but he escaped, disguised as an Indian interpreter. Not yet twenty-two he attracted the attention of his superiors. "Be sure to encourage Ensign Clive in his martial pursuits, according to his merit; any improvement he shall make shall be duly regarded by us."[xlviii]
Soon an opportunity arose for Clive to prove his worth. Still hoping to regain Madras, the French tried to surround it with strongpoints, for instance Arcot, the capital of the principality of Hyderabad, in the hinterland of Madras. It should be remarked that both the French and the British began to operate deeper inland than they had done thus far. Another French strongpoint was Trichinopoly, a dependancy of Hyderabad, much farther to the south. The local ruler had the support of French troops. The British had their own ally, Muhammad Ali, the son of a former governor of Trichinopoly; he was still holding out in the city's rock fortress. This was Clive's chance; he was a captain now, or he called himself so.
Acting more or less on his own initiative, he collected a force of two hundred Englishmen and three hundred sepoys (Indian soldiers in European service) and drove them in forced marches to Arcot in the Indian summer heat, invested it and captured it after a siege of fifty-one days. As if he was a kingmaker, he brought Muhammad Ali from Trichinopoly and put him on the throne in Arcot.[xlix]
The next phase of the Anglo-French colonial war broke out in 1756, when the Seven Years War began. A strong French fleet with reinforcements arrived, which enabled the French to take Fort St.David on June 2. From October 1758 to March 1759 they besieged Madras, but proved unable to capture it. After having defeated the French in the field, the British laid siege to Pondicherry and took it on January 16, 1763. This city was restored to France, when peace was concluded in Europe. This spelled the end of France's attempts to establish a French raj in India.[l]
Having acquired an aura of being always successful, Clive was raised to the peerage and was, as Lord Clive, appointed governor and commander-in-chief of Bengal. As Smith expresses it, "the poacher had turned gamekeeper without loss of vigour or finesse."[li] He arrived in Calcutta on May 2, 1765. He could have marched on Delhi, but this seemed to him outstretching the Company's possibilities. What he did was capturing Chinsura from the Dutch. Most of his time and energy he spent on regulating the affairs of Bengal, in which he was only partially successful. He believed that Bengal could generate enough money to pay the Company's expenses, but this was not he case, so that it came close to bankruptcy.
Clive's reputation suffered from it. London sent a high official to reform the situation. This official was Warren Hastings (1733-1818). He spent three years in Bengal, 1761-1764, and was upset by the abuse of power by British employees. Having gone back to England in 1764, he returned to Bengal in 1769 and became its governor in 1772, thus replacing Clive. Lord Clive had always been suffering from depressions; in 1774 he took his own life. What he left behind was a Bengal entirely in British hands, the first substantial territorial possession of England in Asia. His successor Hastings was made governor-general of the State of India in 1773, which meant that Madras and Bombay also came under his supervision.
Hastings had come with a mandate for reform. "We now arm you with full powers to make a complete reformation."[lii] The new governor was a very capable man, who used his full powers for a thorough reorganization of the administration of India, a subject, however, that need not concern us in this context. Accused of irregularities, he was forced to return to England in 1785, leaving behind a State of India that during the next century would become the British Raj. To use Wolpert's expression, the English were to become the `new Mughals' of India.



BOS RADWAN, Ann, The Dutch in Western India 1601-1632. A study in mutual accomodation. Calcutta, 1978.

DUNBAR, George, A History of India from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. London, 1936.

EDWARDES, Michael, A History of India. From the Earliest Times to the Present Day. London, 1961.

PEARSON, M.Y., The Portuguese in India. Part I of the New Cambridge History of India. Cambridge University Press (1987).

SMITH, Vincent A., The Oxford History of India. Fourth Edition edited by Percival Spear. Oxford University Press, 1981 (19191).

SPEAR, Percival, A History of India. Penguin Books, 1978 (19851).

WAGENAAR, Lodewijk J., Galle. VOC vestiging in Ceylon. Beschrijving van een koloniale samenleving aan de vooravond van de Singalese opstand tegen het Nederlandse gezag. Amsterdam, 1994.

WOLPERT, Stanley, A New History of India. Oxford University Press, 1982.


[i].. Edwardes, History of India 125.

[ii].. See for more information Smith, Oxford History of India, Books IV and V.

[iii].. Pearson, Portuguese in India 30.

[iv].. Quoted by Pearson, Portuguese in India 31.

[v].. Pearson, Portuguese in India 36.

[vi].. Spear, History of India II.

[vii].. Quoted from Babur's autobiography by Edwardes, History of India 151.

[viii].. `Babur' or `Babar' is a surname meaning `the Tiger'.

[ix].. Quoted by Edwardes, History of India 131.

[x].. Edwardes, History of India 132.

[xi].. Smith, Oxford History of India 321.

[xii].. Quoted from Babur's autobiography by Edwardes, History of India 132.

[xiii].. Spear, History of India II, 231.

[xiv].. Quoted from Babur's autobiography by Smith, Oxford History of India 322.

[xv].. See for this Spear, History of India II, 21-25; Edwardes,
History of India, ch.6; Smith, Oxford History of India 320-323.

[xvi].. Smith, Oxford History of India 323.

[xvii].. Spear, History of India II, 28.

[xviii].. See for this Spear, History of India II, 26-29; Smith, Oxford
History of India 323-326; Dunbar, History of India 170-175.

[xix].. The Dutch author P.A.S. van Limburg Brouwer devoted a novel to him, called Akbar (1872). This still very readable book combines three things: it is a Bildungsroman,it is a soap, and it is a disquisition on the right kind of religion. Young Prince Siddha falls in love with an excellent young girl, betrays her by having an affair with a femme fatale, and becomes his true self with the help of a wise man. It is also a book of adventures, of fights, of palace intrigues, of plots and treason, of assassins and of a hermit who in reality is an exiled king. Thirdly we see Akbar and two of his learned and trusted discussing about the best form of religion. It is here that the author makes Akbar the spokesman of his own Enlightenment ideas: his religion must be undogmatic, anti-clerical and based on reason, not on revelation. There are representatives of India's three main religions, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian: all three are intolerant fanatics.

[xx].. Quoted by Spear, History of India II, 38.

[xxi].. Dunbar, History of India 197.

[xxii].. Smith, Oxford History of India 347.

[xxiii].. Smith, Oxford History of India 346-350, quotation on p.349.

[xxiv].. Smith, Oxford History of India 337/338; Dunbar, History of India 177/178.

[xxv].. Dunbar, History of India 181; Smith, Oxford History of India 339.

[xxvi].. Dunbar, History of India 181-183.

[xxvii].. Smith, Oxford History of India 341.

[xxviii].. Smith, Oxford History of India 341/342; Dunbar, History of India 184/185.

[xxix].. Smith, Oxford History of India 344; Dunbar, History of India 186.

[xxx].. Smith, Oxford History of India 345; Dunbar, History of India 186/187.

[xxxi].. Smith, Oxford History of India 346.

[xxxii].. Smith, Oxford History of India 353/354; Dunbar, History of India 187/188.

[xxxiii].. Bos Radwan, Dutch in Western India 21-25; quotations on p.24.

[xxxiv].. Bos Radwan, Dutch in Western India 26-32.

[xxxv].. See for this Bos Radwan, Dutch in Western India 27-40.

[xxxvi].. See for this the richly illustrated work by Wagenaar, Galle.

[xxxvii].. Spear, History of India II,54; Smith, Oxford History of India 332/333.

[xxxviii].. Spear, History of India 65/66.

[xxxix].. Smith, Oxford History of India 333.

[xl].. Wolpert, Short History of India.

[xli].. Smith, Oxford History of India 334.

[xlii].. Smith, Oxford History of India 333.

[xliii].. Smith, Oxford History of India 417/418.

[xliv].. Spear, History of India II, 70.

[xlv].. Spear, History of India II, 71.

[xlvi].. Spear, History of India II, 72.

[xlvii].. Wolpert, New History of India 187.

[xlviii].. Dunbar, History of India 318/319, with the quotation.

[xlix].. Wolpert, New History of India 177.

[l].. Smith, Oxford History of India 463/464.

[li].. Smith, Oxford History of India 474/475.

[lii].. Quoted by Smith, Oxford History of India 502.

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